Don Carlo, 1867
Our production, Friday June 22nd
1886 version, Royal Opera House 2008, Cond.
Antonio Pappano. Don Carlo - Rolando Villazon
(ten), Elizabeth of Valois - Marina Poplavskaya
(sop), Rodrigo Marquis of Posa - Simon
Keenlyside (bar), Philip II - Ferrucio Furlandetto
(bass), Princess Eboli (mez), Grand Inquisitor -
Eric Halfvarson (bass), King Carlos V/monk -
Robert Lloyd (bass).
The Greatest of Verdi Operas?
“Any production of Verdi's most monumental work
that reminds you it is one of the very greatest of all
operas has to be accounted a success… It's the power of
Verdi's astonishing score, driven by his withering
critique of the evils of organised religion, that one takes
from this production, and it's no disgrace to any of the
performers that that is how it should be.” Read the
Guardian review of our production, and from Variety.
No, it’s not a true story, though Philip, his young wife
Elizabeth and his son Don Carlo were historical
figures. The real story is worse – details here. Verdi
used a version from a 1787 dramatic poem by Friedrich
Schiller – and revised it over 20 years. The final
revision has 5 acts. “‘Nothing in the drama is
historical’, Verdi wrote, ‘but it contains a
Shakespearean truth and profundity of
characterizations’. In other words, he treated his
material as myth. The story was too good not to set.”
These are all vivid characters, shown in complex
music, dark for the Grand Inquisitor, bright for
Marquis of Posa in his duet with Don Carlo about
friendship and freedom. The women, Eboli and
Elizabeth, are given fine, heroic music.
Within this complex music, Verdi is exploring
further the combination of voices. The Grand
Inquisitor duet ‘Son io dinanzi al Re?’ (Am I
before the king?) with Philip is a gripping
struggle between church and state - between
“In this highly charged duet, there is no
sustained melody, rather a set of questions and
answers, sometimes direct statements, each
shifting musical direction to generate a constant
air of unease: what is going to happen next?
Both characters are sung by
bass voices, and the
instrumentation is often low
and sonorous. So there is a
weight and darkness in the
music to match the mood, as
the Inquisitor threatens the
King under the pretence of it
being God’s will.” (ROH).
Compare with Don Carlo
and Posa’s ‘Dio che
nell’almo infonde’: that
uncomplicated duet (tenor
and baritone) about freedom
and friendship, for two
young male voices. And in Princess Eboli, the
composer continues his exploration of mezzo
soprano voice in opera. Remember Azucena?
Listen to Eboli’s famous “O don fatale” (O fatal
gift) with Elina Garanča.