Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi

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Don Carlos is an opera in five acts, although in the Italian version there are four acts. It was composed by Giuseppe Verdi in 1867; the first Italian version was made for Naples in 1872, a revised four act Italian version for Milan in 1884 and a five act Italian version for Modena in 1886.

The first version premiered on the 11th March 1867 in Paris; the Italian four act with text revised by Camille du Locle was premiered on the 10th January 1884. It is set in France and Spain around 1560.

Characters:

Phillip II, King of Spain (Bass)

Elisabeth de Valois, his wife (Soprano)

Don Carlos, Infante of Spain (Tenor)

Princess Eboil, a lady of the court (Mezzo-Soprano)

Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa (Baritone)

The Grand Inquistor (Bass)

The Count of Lerma (Tenor)

The Countess of Aremberg (silent)

Thibault, the queen’s page (Soprano)

An old monk (Bass)

A Voice from Heaven (Soprano)

Flemish deputies, lords and ladies, crowd, pages, guards, monks, officers of the Inquistion, soldiers and condemned heretics (the chorus)

Synopsis:

Act I

(Prolgue in the Italian version)

In the forest of Fontainebleau it is a time of true between the war of Spain and France. Envoys from the Spanish court are visiting the French. To pledge peace, Phillip II has betrothed his son Don Carlos to Elisabeth de Valois although the two have never seen each other. They accidently meet in the forest and fall in love but things seem dark when political interests introduce Philip to marry Elisabeth himself.

Act II

(Act I in the Italian version)

Scene 1: In the monastery of San Yuste, Carlos remembers his love for Elisabeth and flees to the tomb of his grandfather Charles V. He encounters the marquis of Posa who has returned from the Netherlands where the Spanish Inquisition has reached new heights of power. Posa hopes to divert Carlos’ passions from Elisabeth to the liberation of the Netherlands. Carlos intends to ask his father to send him to Flanders.

Scene 2: Posa gives Elisabeth letters from the queen of France and asks her to influence Carlos to gain interest in political aims. She meets with Carlos and they both unhappily declare their love for each other. However, she gives him new courage. Phillip unexpectedly arrives to find his wife unaccompanied, and dismisses the lady0in-waiting who should have been with her. Elisabeth stands up to her husband and makes some bitter remarks about Spain. Posa meets with the king and tries to win his support, asking for mercy for the suffering people of the Netherlands. Impressed by Posa’s passions, he confides his suspicions towards his son and gives Posa full political powers. He warns him against the Inquisition.

Act II

(Act II in the Italian version)

Scene 1: In the garden of the palace in Madrid, Elisabeth refuses to attend a masquerade and gives her cloak, jewellery and mask to Princess Eboli. She is herself in love with Carlos and sends a message to him to meet her. Carlos thinks he is declaring his love for Elisabeth but then realises it is not her. Carlos has betrayed his secret love, the princess feels humiliated and then turns to hatred. Posa has witnessed all this and wants to kill the princess, as this knowledge makes her dangerous. He makes Carlos hand over all incriminating documents.

Scene 2: Outside the Valladolid Cathedral, the Inquisition is preparing a public auto-da-fe. The heretics and executioners are brought before the king and the crowd. Carlos arrives with the deputies from the Netherlands and begs for mercy from the king. Carlos asks to be sent to Flanders but is refused. Carlos draws his sword and Phillip has him arrested. Posa, seeing no one dares asks him for his swords, does so and then the heretics are burnt. A heavenly voice sounds, promising peace to the tormented victims.

Act IV

(Act III in the Italian version)

Scene 1: In the king’s study in Madrid, Philip has experienced another sleepless night. He is tortured by jealousy, loneliness and impotence. He asks the Grand Inquisitor whether in any circumstance, would it be right for a father to kill his son. He is offered absolution from the murder and asks that Posa be handed over. Philip pleads that he needs a friend but he also needs the power of the Church to preserve his power, so he agrees. Elisabeth has discovered realises her jewel case has been stolen; the princess has sent it to the king. Philip opens it and finds a medallion that Carlos had once given her. He accuses her of unfaithfulness but the princess admits her guilt. Elisabeth exiles her from court and Eboli, knowing the king has a warrant for Carlos’ death, resolves to rescue him.

Scene 2: In the prison, Posa says goodbye to Carlos. He has penned a letter condemning himself as the instigating the riots and taking secret documents from Carlos. Posa is shot. As he lays dying, he tells Carlos that the queen wants to see him for a last time before he goes to Flanders. Philip frees Carlos believing that Posa had betrayed him as well. Carlos tells his father the truth. Princess Eboli and her mob demand Carlos’ freedom and gain entry into the prison. The Grand Inquisitor appears, preventing a rebellion.

Act V

(Act IV in the Italian version)

In the monastery of San Yuste, Elisabeth and Carlos meet at the tomb of Charles V where Posa had arranged for them to say goodbye. Elisabeth warns him of Flemish freedom. The Inquisition demands him but an old monk intervenes, speaking with the voice of Charles V, Philip’s father, who forsaken earthly power for heavenly peace.

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