22 september 2010
44 – Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi
Don Carlos is a five-act Grand Opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi to a French language libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry, based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (”Don Carlos, Infante of Spain”) by Friedrich Schiller.
[This synopsis is based on the original five-act version composed for Paris and completed in 1866. Important changes for subsequent versions are noted in indented brackets]
[This Act was omitted in the 1883 revision]
The Forest of Fontainebleau, France in winter
A prelude and chorus of woodcutters and their wives is heard. They complain of their hard life, made worse by war with Spain. Elisabeth, daughter of the King of France, arrives with her attendants. She reassures the people that her impending marriage to Don Carlos, son of the King of Spain, will bring the war to an end, and departs
[This was cut before the Paris première and replaced by a short scene in which Elisabeth crosses the stage and hands out money to the woodcutters]
Carlos, coming out from hiding, has seen Elisabeth and fallen in love with her. When she reappears, he initially pretends to be a member of the Count of Lerma’s delegation, but then reveals his identity and his feelings, which she reciprocates. A cannon-shot signifies that peace has been declared between Spain and France, and Thibault informs Elisabeth that her hand is to be claimed not by Carlos but by his father, Philip II. Lerma and his followers confirm this, and Elisabeth feels bound to accept, in order to consolidate the peace. She departs for Spain, leaving Carlos devastated.
[This Act is Act 1 in the 1883 revision]
Scene 1: The monastery of Saint-Just (San Jerónimo de Yuste) in Spain
Monks pray for the soul of the Emperor Charles V. His grandson Don Carlos enters, anguished that the woman he loves is now married to his father.
[In the 1883 revision, he sings an aria, salvaged from the omitted first Act]
A monk resembling the former emperor offers him eventual consolation of peace through God. Carlos’s friend Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa, has just come from the oppressed land of Flanders.
[This was cut during the pre-première rehearsals]
He asks for the Infante’s aid on behalf of the suffering people there. Carlos reveals that he loves his stepmother. Posa encourages him to leave Spain and go to Flanders. The two men swear eternal friendship. King Philip and his new wife, with their attendants, enter to do homage at Charles V’s tomb, while Don Carlos laments his lost love.
Scene 2: A garden near Saint-Just
Princess Eboli sings the Veil Song about a Moorish King and an alluring veiled beauty that turned out to be his neglected wife. Elisabeth enters. Posa delivers a letter from France (and secretly a note from Don Carlos). At his urging, Elisabeth agrees to see the Infante alone. Eboli notices Don Carlos’ agitation and infers that she, Eboli, is the one Don Carlos loves.
When they are alone, Don Carlos tells Elisabeth that he is miserable, and asks her to request Philip to send him to Flanders. She promptly agrees, provoking Carlos to renew his declarations of love, which she piously rejects. Don Carlos exits in a frenzy, shouting that he must be under a curse. The King enters and becomes angry because the Queen is alone and unattended. He orders her lady-in-waiting, the Countess of Aremberg, to return to France, prompting Elizabeth to sing a sorrowful goodbye-aria. The King approaches Posa, whose character and activism have impressed him favorably. Posa begs the King to stop oppressing the people of Flanders. The King calls Posa’s idealistic request unrealistic, and warns him that the Grand Inquisitor is watching him.
[This duologue was revised three times by Verdi]
[This Act is Act 2 in the 1883 revision]
Scene 1: Evening in the Queen’s garden in Madrid
Elisabeth is tired, and wishes to concentrate on the following days’s coronation of the King. To avoid the divertissement planned for the evening, she exchanges masks with Eboli, assuming that thereby her absence will not be noticed, and leaves
[This scene was omitted from the 1883 revision]
[The ballet, (choreographed by Lucien Petipa and entitled ”La Peregrina”) took place at this point in the première]
Don Carlos enters. He has received a note suggesting a tryst in the gardens, which he thinks is from Elisabeth, but which is really from Eboli, to whom he mistakenly declares his love. The disguised Eboli realizes that he thinks that she is the Queen, and Carlos is horrified that she now knows his secret. When Posa enters, she threatens to tell the King that Elisabeth and Carlos are lovers. Carlos prevents Posa from stabbing her, and she exits in a vengeful rage. Posa asks Carlos to entrust to him any sensitive political documents that he may have, and, when Carlos agrees, they reaffirm their friendship.
Scene 2: In front of the Cathedral of Valladolid
Preparations are being made an ”Auto-da-fé”, the public parade and burning of condemned heretics. While the people celebrate, monks drag the condemned to the woodpile. The royal procession follows, and the King addresses the populace, but Don Carlos brings forward six Flemish deputies, who plead with the King for their country’s freedom. The people and the court are sympathetic, but the King, supported by the monks, orders the deputies’ arrest. Carlos draws his sword against the King. The King calls for help but the guards will not attack Don Carlos. Posa steps in, and persuades Carlos to surrender his sword. The King then promotes Posa to Duke, the woodpile is fired, and, as the flames start to rise, a heavenly voice can be heard promising peace to the condemned souls.
[This Act is Act 3 in the 1883 revision]
Scene 1: Dawn in King Philip’s study in Madrid
Alone, the King, in a reverie, laments that Elisabeth has never loved him, that his position means that he has to be eternally vigilant, and that he will only sleep properly when he is in his tomb in the Escorial. The blind, ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor is announced. The King asks if the Church will object to his putting his own son to death, and the Inquisitor replies that the King will be in good company: God sacrificed His own son. In return, the Inquisitor demands that the King have Posa killed. The King refuses to kill his friend, whom he admires and likes, but the Inquisitor reminds the King that the Inquisition can take down any king; he has destroyed other kings before. The King admits that he is powerless to save his friend and begs the Grand Inquisitor to forget about the whole discussion. The Grand Inqusitor replies ”We’ll see,” and leaves. Elisabeth enters, alarmed at the apparent theft of her jewel casket, but the King produces it and points to the portrait of Don Carlos which it contains, and accuses her of adultery. She protests her innocence, and, when the King threatens her, she faints. He calls for help. Eboli and Posa appear, and a quartet develops. The King realises that he has wronged his wife. Posa resolves to save Carlos, though it may mean his own death. Eboli feels remorse for betraying Elisabeth; the latter, recovering, expresses her despair.
[This quartet was revised by Verdi in 1883]
The two women are left together. A duet was cut before the première. Eboli confesses not only that she stole the casket because she loved Carlos and he rejected her, but, worse, she has also been the mistress of the King. Elisabeth tells her that she must go into exile or enter a convent, and exits. Eboli, alone, curses the fatal pride that her beauty has bestowed on her, chooses the convent over exile, and resolves to try to save Carlos from the Inquisition.
Scene 2: A prison
Don Carlos has been imprisoned. Posa arrives to tell him that he will be saved but that he himself will have to die, incriminated by the politically sensitive documents which Carlos had entrusted to him. A shadowy figure shoots Posa in the chest. As he dies, Posa tells Carlos that Elisabeth will meet him at Saint-Just on the following day, and says that he is content to die if his friend can save Flanders and rule over a happier Spain. After his death, Philip enters, offering his son freedom. Carlos repulses him for having murdered Posa. The King sees that Posa has been killed, and cries out in his sorrow.
[A duet included at this point for Carlos and the King, cut before the première, was later re-used by Verdi for the Lacrimosa in his Requiem]
Bells ring, and Elisabeth, Eboli and the Grand Inquisitor arrive, while a crowd demands the release of Carlos and threatens the King. In the confusion, Eboli escapes with Carlos. The people are brave enough to threaten the King, but they are terrified by the Grand Inquisitor, and they instantly obey his angry command to quiet down and bow to the King.
[After the première, some productions ended this Act with the death of Posa; however, in 1883 Verdi provided a much shortened version of the insurrection, as he felt that otherwise it would not be clear how Eboli had fulfilled her promise to rescue Carlos]
[This Act is Act 4 in the 1883 revision]
The moonlit monastery of Saint-Just
Elisabeth kneels before the tomb of Charles V. She is committed to help Don Carlos on his way to fulfil his destiny in Flanders, but she herself longs only for death. Carlos appears and they say a final farewell, promising to meet again in Heaven.
[This duet was twice revised by Verdi]
Philip and the Grand Inquisitor enter: the King declares that there will be a double sacrifice, and the Inquisitor confirms that the Inquisition will do its duty. A short summary trial follows.
[The trial was omitted in 1883]
Carlos, calling on God, draws his sword to defend himself against the Inquisitor’s guards, when suddenly, the Monk emerges from the tomb of Charles V. He grabs Carlos by the shoulder, and loudly proclaims that the turbulence of the world persists even in the Church; we cannot rest except in Heaven. Philip and the Inquisitor recognize the Monk’s voice as that of the King’s father, former-Emperor Charles V himself. Everyone screams in shock and terror, and the Monk/former-Emperor drags Carlos forcefully into the tomb and closes the outlet. The curtain falls.
Philip II, (Filippo) King of Spain – bass
Don Carlos (Don Carlo), Infante of Spain – tenor
Rodrigue (Rodrigo), Marquis of Posa – baritone
The Grand Inquisitor – bass
Elisabeth of Valois – soprano
Princess Eboli – mezzo-soprano
A monk (Charles V) – bass
Thibault (Tebaldo) page – soparno
A voice from heaven – soprano
The count of Lerma – tenor
Royal Herald – tenor
Countess of Aremberg – silent
As noted when reading the synopsis there are very many versions of this opera, in both French and Italian. I haven’t seen it, but it seems to have one of the strangest endings I’ve heard about, not exactly logical. The opera has been pretty popular the last few years, I’ve heard of quite a few productions of it, and for example it’s going to be digicast by the Met in December. Here’s a clip of the Grand Inquisitor, a bit unexpected, but not surprised.