2013 is coming to an end and we are going to remember the BEST of this year: Verdi vs Wagner, the Operas!
Celebrating Verdi’s bicentennial!
Don Carlos is a five-act grand opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi to a French language libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (Don Carlos, Infante of Spain) by Friedrich Schiller.
In addition, it has been noted by David Kimball that the Fontainebleau scene and auto da fé “were the most substantial of several incidents borrowed from a contemporary play on Philip II by Eugène Cormon” ]
Given its premiere at the Salle Le Peletier on 11 March 1867, the opera’s story is based on conflicts in the life of Carlos, Prince of Asturias (1545–1568), after his betrothed Elisabeth of Valois was married instead to his father Philip II of Spain as part of the peace treaty ending the Italian War of 1551–1559 between the Houses of Habsburg and Valois. It was commissioned and produced by the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra (Paris Opera).
When performed in one of its several Italian versions, the opera is generally called Don Carlo. The first Italian version given in Italy was in Bologna in March 1867.
Revised again by Verdi, it was given in Naples in November/December 1872. Finally, two other versions were prepared: the first was seen in Milan in January 1884 (in which the four acts were based on some original French text which was then translated).
It is now known as the “Milan version”. The second, also sanctioned by the composer, was the “Modena version” and presented in that city in December 1886. It added the “Fontainebleau” first act to the Milan four-act version.
Over the following twenty years, cuts and additions were made to the opera, resulting in a number of versions being available to directors and conductors. No other Verdi opera exists in so many versions. At its full length (including the ballet and the cuts made before the first performance), it contains about four hours of music and is Verdi’s longest opera.
Pre-première cuts and first published edition
Verdi made a number of cuts in 1866, after finishing the opera but before composing the ballet, simply because the work was becoming too long.
These were a duet for Elisabeth and Eboli in act 4, scene 1; a duet for Carlos and the King after the death of Posa in act 4, scene 2; and an exchange between Elisabeth and Eboli during the insurrection in the same scene.
After the ballet had been composed, it emerged during the 1867 rehearsal period that, without further cuts, the opera would not finish before midnight (the time by which patrons would need to leave in order to catch the last trains to the Paris suburbs). Verdi then authorised some further cuts, which were, firstly, the introduction to act 1 (with a chorus of woodcutters and their wives, and including the first appearance of Elisabeth); secondly, a short entry solo for Posa (J’étais en Flandres) in act 2, scene 1; and, thirdly, part of the dialogue between the King and Posa at the end of act 2, scene 2.
The opera, as first published at the time of the première, consisted of Verdi’s original conception, minus all of the above-named cuts but including the ballet.
As Don Carlos in French
After the première and before leaving Paris, Verdi authorised the Opéra authorities to end act 4, scene 2 with the death of Posa (thus omitting the insurrection scene) if they thought fit. After his departure, further (unauthorised) cuts were apparently made during the remaining performances. It appears to have been a “problem opera” for the Opéra, and it disappeared from the repertoire after 1869.
As Don Carlo in an Italian translation
It was common practice at the time for most theatres (other than those in French-speaking communities) to perform operas in Italian, and an Italian translation of Don Carlos was prepared in the autumn of 1866 by Achille de Lauzières.
On 18 November 1866 Verdi wrote to Giovanni Ricordi, offering the Milan publisher the Italian rights, but insisting that the opera:
must be performed in its entirety as it will be performed for the first time at the Paris Opéra. Don Carlos is an opera in five acts with ballet: if nevertheless the management of Italian theatres would like to pair it with a different ballet, this must be placed either before or after the uncut opera, never in the middle, following the barbarous custom of our day.
However, the Italian translation was first performed not in Italy but in London at the Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden on 4 June 1867 (now the Royal Opera House), where it was produced and conducted by Michael Costa, but not as Verdi desired: it was in a cut and altered form. The first act was removed, the ballet in act 3 was omitted, and Carlo’s aria Io la vidi (originally in act 1) was moved to act 3, just before the terzetto. The duet between Philip and the Inquisitor was shortened by four lines, and Elisabeth’s aria in act 5 consisted only of part of the middle section and the reprise.
The production was initially considered a success, and Verdi sent a congratulatory note to Costa. Later when Verdi learned of the alterations, he was greatly irritated, but Costa’s version anticipated revisions Verdi himself would make in 1882–83 (see below).
The Italian premiere on 27 October 1867 at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conducted by Verdi’s close friend Angelo Mariani, was an “instant success”, and this version, although produced in Verdi’s absence, was more complete and included the ballet.
For the Rome premiere on 9 February 1868 at the Teatro Apollo, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Papal censor changed the Inquisitor into a Gran Cancelliere (Grand Chancellor) and the Monk/Emperor into a Solitario (Recluse).
This version of the opera was first performed in Milan at La Scala on 25 March 1868, and prestige productions in most other Italian opera houses followed, but it did not become a popular success.
The length was a particular problem, and subsequent performances were generally heavily cut. The first production in Naples in 1871 was indisputably a failure.
Further revisions to the music and the text
Following the unsuccessful performance in Naples in 1871, Verdi was persuaded to visit the city for further performances in November / December 1872, and he made two more modifications to the score.
These were additions to the scene for Posa and the King in act 2, scene 2 (Italian verses by Antonio Ghislanzoni) to replace some of the previously cut material.
This is the only portion of the entire opera that was ever composed by Verdi to an Italian rather than a French text. In addition, there were cuts to the duet between Carlos and Elisabeth in act 5.
The 1882/83 and 1886 revisions: The “Milan version” and the “Modena version”
The idea of reducing the scope and scale of Don Carlos had originally come to Verdi in 1875, partly as a result of his having heard reports of productions, such as Costa’s, which had removed act 1 and the ballet and introduced cuts to other parts of the opera.
By April 1882, he was in Paris where he was ready to make changes. He was already familiar with the work of Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter, who had worked on French translations of Macbeth, La forza del destino and Aida with du Locle, and the three proceeded to spend nine months on major revisions of the French text and the music to create a four-act version.
This omitted act 1 and the ballet, and was completed by March 1883. An Italian translation of this revised French text, re-using much of the original 1866 translation by de Lauzières, was made by Angelo Zanardini (it). The La Scala première of the 1883 revised version took place on 10 January 1884 in Italian.
Although Verdi had accepted the need to remove the first act, it seems that he changed his mind and allowed a performance which presented the “Fontainebleau” first act along with the revised four-act version. It was given in 29 December 1886 in Modena, and has become known as the “Modena version”, which was published by Ricordi as “a new edition in five acts without ballet”.
20th century and beyond:
Performances of Don Carlo in the first half of the twentieth century were rare, but in the post Second World War period it has been regularly performed, particularly in the four-act 1884 “Milan version” in Italian.
Following the notable 1958 staging of the 1886 five-act “Modena version” in Italian by The Royal Opera company, Covent Garden, directed by Luchino Visconti and featuring Jon Vickers as Don Carlo, Tito Gobbi as Posa, Boris Christoff as King Phillip and Gré Brouwenstijn as Elisabetta, this version has increasingly been performed elsewhere and has been recorded by, among others, Georg Solti and Carlo Maria Giulini. Charles Mackerras conducted this five-act version (complete with Verdi’s original prelude, the woodcutters’ scene and the original ending)in an English translation for English National Opera at the London Coliseum in 1975.
Today, as translated into Italian and presented in the Milan and Modena versions, the opera has become part of the standard repertory.
Stagings and broadcasts of the original five-act French version of the opera have become much more frequent in the later 20th and into the 21st century, although they do not come anywhere near to equaling the number given in Italian. This is evidenced by the number of recordings of live and recorded performances.
A radio broadcast by ORTF in France was given in 1967 with an almost totally French cast by it also included Matteo Manuguerra as Rodrigue. The BBC Concert Orchestra under John Matheson broadcast the opera in June 1973 with the roles of Don Carlos sung by André Turp, Philippe II by Joseph Rouleau, and Rodrigue by Robert Savoie. In a footnote, Julian Budden comments that “this was the first complete performance of what could be called the 1866 conception in French with the addition of the ballet.”
La Scala presented it in 1970, featuring Plácido Domingo and Katia Ricciarelli, but with some major roles taken by Ruggero Raimondi as Philip, Leo Nucci as Rodrigue, and Nicolai Ghiaurov as Le Grand Inquisiteur. A performance of this version (but including the parts not performed in the first Paris première, while omitting the ballet “La Pérégrina”), was staged and conducted by Sarah Caldwell with the Opera Company of Boston in 1973. It featured John Alexander in the title role.
In November 1983, the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels staged the work with Philippe II sung by Samuel Ramey. John Pritchard conducted performances at the San Francisco Opera in September 1986, the Elizabeth having been sung by Pilar Lorengar; The Théâtre du Châtelet again presented the work (which has been released on CD and DVD) in 1996 with Roberto Alagna as Don Carlos, José van Dam as Philippe, Thomas Hampson as Rodrigue, and the roles of Elizabeth de Valois and Eboli were sung by Karita Mattila and Waltraud Meier respectively. The production was repeated that same year in November with Nelly Miricioiu in the cast as Elizabeth.
The complete uncut French version was performed first at the Hamburg State Opera under Ingo Metzmacher in 2001, then (as filmed for DVD) at the Staatsoper in Vienna in 2004 under Bertrand de Billy, on this occasion with Ramón Vargas in the title role. San Francisco revived its production in 2003 with Marina Mescheriakova as Elizabeth and Violeta Urmana as Eboli. It was presented at the Liceu, Barcelona under Maurizio Benini in February 2007 with Franco Farina in the title role and bass Eric Halfvarson as Le Grand Inquisiteur.
Productions have been staged in Hamburg in December/January 2011/12 and again in January/February 2013.
In April 2012 the Houston Grand Opera presented the five-act French version. Featured in the cast was Christine Goerke as Eboli, Andrea Silvestrelli as the King, and Samuel Ramey as the Le Grand Inquisiteur. It was also staged at the Rousse State Opera in Bulgaria in Spring 2013, apparently in French.
In my opinion, Ferruccio Furlanetto is the greatest King Philipp II!
(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. First lines of arias, etc., are given in French and Italian).
(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, Infante and son of Philip II, 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 (Aria: “Je l’ai vue” / “Io la vidi”). When she reappears, he initially pretends to be a member of the Count of Lerma’s delegation. She asks him about Don Carlos, whom she has not yet met. Before long, Carlos reveals his true identity and his feelings, which she reciprocates (Duet: “De quels transports poignants et doux” / “Di quale amor, di quanto ardor”). A cannon-shot signifies that peace has been declared between Spain and France. Thibault appears and gives Elisabeth the surprising news that her hand is to be claimed not by Carlos but by his father, Philip. When Lerma and his followers confirm this, Elisabeth is devastated but feels bound to accept, in order to consolidate the peace. She departs for Spain, leaving Carlos equally devastated.
(This act is act 1 in the 1883 revision)
Scene 1: The monastery of Saint-Just (San Jerónimo de Yuste) in Spain:
The scene takes place some time after Philip II and Elisabeth are married. Monks pray for the soul of the former Emperor Charles V (“Carlo Quinto”). His grandson Don Carlos enters, anguished that the woman he loves is now his stepmother.
[In the 1883 revision, he sings a revised version of the aria “Je l’ai vue” / “Io la vidi”, which was salvaged from the omitted first act but with some different music and different text to reflect his current situation of already knowing he can’t marry Elisabeth whereas in the original he was still supposed to marry her when he sings the aria]
A monk resembling Carlo Quinto offers him eventual consolation of peace through God, an early herald of one of the opera’s themes. Carlos greets his great friend Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa, who has just arrived from the oppressed land of Flanders (Aria: “J’étais en Flandres”).
[This was cut during the pre-première rehearsals]
Posa asks for the Infante’s aid on behalf of the suffering people there. Carlos reveals that he loves his stepmother. Posa is sympathetic but encourages him to leave Spain and go to Flanders. The two men swear eternal friendship (Duet: “Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes” / “Dio, che nell’alma infondere”). King Philip and his new wife, with their attendants, enter also 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 (“Au palais des fées” / “Nel giardin del bello”) about a Moorish King and an alluring veiled beauty that turned out to be his neglected wife. Elisabeth enters. Posa gives her a letter from France together, secretly, with a note from Don Carlos. At his urging (Aria: “L’Infant Carlos, notre espérance” / “Carlo ch’è sol il nostro amore”), Elisabeth agrees to see the Infante alone. Unaware of this relationship, Eboli 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 the lady-in-waiting who was meant to be attending her, the Countess of Aremberg, to return to France, prompting Elizabeth to sing a sorrowful goodbye-aria. (Aria: “Oh ma chère compagne” / “Non pianger, mia compagna”). The King approaches Posa, with whose character and activism he is impressed, intent on rewarding him. Posa begs the King to stop oppressing the people of Flanders. The King calls Posa’s idealism unrealistic and warns that the Grand Inquisitor is watching him; Philip nevertheless asks if he can grant Posa another request.
(This dialogue 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 day’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 Pérégrina”) took place at this point in the première]
Don Carlos enters, clutching a note suggesting a tryst in the gardens. Although he thinks this is from Elisabeth, it is really from Eboli, to whom he mistakenly declares his love. When Eboli discloses her identity and that she now knows his secret – that he was expecting the Queen – Carlos is horrified. When Posa enters, she threatens to tell the King that Elisabeth and Carlos are lovers. Eboli only just escapes from being stabbed by Posa, on Carlos intervention, and exits in a vengeful rage. Just in case, 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 for an “Auto-da-fé”, the public parade and burning of condemned heretics. While the people celebrate, monks drag the condemned to the woodpile. A royal procession follows, with the King addressing the populace. Don Carlos interrupts it by bringing forward six Flemish deputies, who plead with the King for their country’s freedom. Although the people and the court are sympathetic, 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 uses it to dub Posa 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 – returning to a central theme – that he will only sleep properly when he is in his tomb in the Escorial (Aria: “Elle ne m’aime pas” / “Ella giammai m’amò”). The blind, ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor is announced and shuffles into Philip’s apartment. When the King asks if the Church will object to him putting his own son to death, the Inquisitor replies that the King will be in good company: God sacrificed His own son. The King questions such an extreme approach. However, undaunted, the Inquisitor demands that the King have Posa killed. The King refuses to kill his friend, whom he admires and likes, objecting to such wanton cruelty. However, the old monk reminds Philip that the Inquisition can take down any king; he has created and destroyed other rulers before. This moment highlights the symbiotic relationship between Church and State. Somewhat taken aback, the King suggests the Grand Inquisitor forget about the past discussion. The latter replies “Peut-être” / “Forse!” – perhaps! – and leaves. In a moment of continuing high drama, Elisabeth enters, alarmed at the apparent theft of her jewel casket. However, the King produces it and points to the portrait of Don Carlos which it contains, accusing her of adultery. She protests her innocence but, when the King threatens her, she faints. In response to his calls for help, into the chamber come Eboli and Posa. Their laments of suspicion (“Maudit soit le soupçon infâme” / “Ah, sii maledetto, sospetto fatale”), cause the King to realise that he has wronged his wife. Posa then 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]
Elisabeth and Eboli are left together.
[Duet: “J’ai tout compris”, was cut before the première]
Eboli confesses not only that she stole the casket because she loved Carlos and he rejected her but also that, even worse, she has been the King’s mistress. Elisabeth takes this in her stride and tells Eboli that she must go into exile or enter a convent. After she exits, Eboli curses the fatal pride that her beauty has bestowed on her, chooses the convent over exile and resolves to try and save Carlos from the Inquisition (Aria: “O don fatal” / “O don fatale”).
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 he had asked Carlos to entrust to him (Aria, part 1: “C’est mon jour suprême” / “Per me giunto è il dì supremo”). A shadowy figure appears and shoots Posa in the chest. As he dies, Posa tells Carlos that Elisabeth will meet him at Saint-Just the following day. He adds that he is content to die if his friend can save Flanders and rule over a happier Spain (Aria, part 2: “Ah, je meurs, l’âme joyeuse” / “Io morrò, ma lieto in core”). At that moment, Philip enters, offering his son freedom. Carlos repulses him for having murdered Posa. The King has not noticed that Posa is dead and cries out in sorrow.
[Duet: Carlos and the King- “Qui me rendra ce mort ?” /”Chi rende a me quest’uom” It was cut before the première and, following it, Verdi authorized its optional removal. The music was later re-used by Verdi for the Lacrimosa of his Messa da Requiem of 1874]
Bells ring as Elisabeth, Eboli and the Grand Inquisitor arrive, while a crowd threatens the King, demanding the release of Carlos. In the confusion, Eboli escapes with Carlos. Although the people are brave enough with the King, they are terrified by the Grand Inquisitor, instantly submitting to his angry command to quieten down and pay homage to Philip.
(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 Yuste
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 (Aria: “Toi qui sus le néant” / “Tu che le vanità”). Carlos appears and they say a final farewell, promising to meet again in Heaven (Duet: “Au revoir dans un monde où la vie est meilleure” / “Ma lassù ci vedremo in un mondo migliore”).
[This duet was twice revised by Verdi]
Philip and the Grand Inquisitor enter. The King has submitted to the church’s domination and declares that there will be a double sacrifice: Posa and Carlos. The Inquisitor confirms that the Inquisition will do its duty. A short summary trial follows, confirming Carlos’s putative culpability.
[The trial was omitted in 1883]
Carlos, calling on God, draws his sword to defend himself against the Inquisitor’s guards, when the old Monk suddenly emerges from the tomb of Charles V. He grabs Carlos by the shoulder, proclaiming that the turbulence of the world persists even in the Church; once again, we cannot rest except in Heaven. Philip and the Inquisitor recognize the Monk’s voice as that of the King’s father, former Emperor Carlo V. Everyone screams in shock and terror, whilst the Monk/former Emperor drags Carlos forcibly into the tomb and closes the entrance. The curtain falls.