26 Apr 2009

VERDI: Don Carlo — Rome 1954

Don Carlo: Opera in four acts.

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). Libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille Du Locle after Friedrich von Schiller’s dramatic poem Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien. French text revised by Du Locle, Italian translation by Achille de Lauzières and Angelo Zanardini.

First Performance: 11 March 1867 at the Opéra, Paris.
Revised version 10 January 1884 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Principal Characters:
Philip II, King of SpainBass
Rodrigue/Rodrigo, Marquis of PisaBaritone
Don Carlos/Don Carlo, Infante of SpainTenor
The Grand InquisitorBass
Elisabeth de Valois, Philip's queenSoprano
Princess Eboli, Elisabeth's lady-in-waitingMezzo-Soprano
Thibault, Eisabeth's pageSoprano
The Countess of ArembergSilent role
The Count of LermaTenor
An Old MonkBass
A Voice from HeavenSoprano
A Royal HeraldTenor
Flemish DeputiesBasses

Setting: France and Spain, about 1560


Act I

Scene 1. The tomb of the Emperor Charles V at the monastery of San Yuste

Don Carlo, son of King Filippo of Spain and heir to the throne, laments the loss of Elisabetta, daughter of the King of France, to whom he had been betrothed when a politcal decision was made that she should marry Filippo. As monks chant the obsequies of the emperor, Carlo V, his grandfather, he is struck by the resemblance of one of them to the dead emperor.

Carlo is joined by his friend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, who exhorts him to help the Flemish people who are suffering under the Spanish yoke. Carlo confides that he loves his stepmother, and the two swear eternal friendship and dedication to the cause of liberty, while Filippo and Elisabetta kneel at the tomb.

Scene 2. A garden at the gate of the monastery

The queen’s ladies are gathered. The Princess of Eboli, accompanied by the page Tebaldo, sings a song. When the queen appears Rodrigo is announced. Along with letters from France he secretly gives her a letter from Carlo. He begs her to intercede with the king for Carlo, who is suffering from his displeasure.

Carlo appears and all withdraw to allow him to be alone with the queen. He begins quietly, asking for her help with the king, but becomes more emotional, lamenting his lost love and collapses at her feet. She is distressed, but when he wildly declares that he loves her, she answers indignantly, as becomes the wife of his father, and he rushes from her presence in self-loathing and despair.

The king arrives and, angry at finding the queen alone, dismisses the lady who should have been with her and orders her to return to France. Elisabetta takes an affectionate farewell of her and leaves.

The king detains Rodrigo and asks why he has never sought favor from him, though he has deserved it. Posa answers that he wants nothing for himself, but begs for peace for the people of Flanders. The king offers peace brought about by the sword, pointing to Spain as an example, but Rodrigo cries out that this is the peace of the grave. Filippo pardons his freedom of speech but warns him against the Grand Inquisitor.

He confides his fears that his wife and son are betraying him and authorises Rodrigo to visit the queen at any time to investigate.

Act II

Scene 1. The queen’s garden

Carlo has received a letter giving him an assignation, which he thinks is from the queen; it is really from Eboli, who is in love with him. Mistaking her at first for the queen, he greets her ecstatically, only to draw back in horror when he realises his mistake. She realises that it is the queen he loves and threatens exposure.

Rodrigo appears and, after trying unsuccessfully to convince her that Carlo is raving, tries to kill her to stop her from speaking. But he is prevented by Carlo, and she leaves, still threatening vengeance. Rodrigo asks the prince to give him any secret documents he has.

Scene 2. A square in Madrid

An auto-da-fé is in progress and the crowd acclaims the glory of the king, who emerges from church and repeats his vow to have the wicked put to death by fire and the sword. Carlo leads in a group of Flemish deputies who beg for mercy for their country, but the king angrily rejects them as traitors. Carlo then asks the king to allow him to go to Flanders as his deputy, but the king refuses, pointing out that he would then be able to seize the throne.

Carlo draws his sword to swear faith with the Flemish people and Filippo orders him to be disarmed. Only Rodrigo obeys and demands the sword, which is yielded by the stunned prince.

The auto-da-fé continues, but a voice from heaven promises peace to the victims.


Scene 1. The king’s study

The king broods that his wife has never loved him. In answer to his summons the Grand Inquisitor appears and Filippo confides his suspicion that the prince is planning rebellion. They agree that he should be handed over to the inquisition, but then the Inquisitor demands that Rodrigo be handed over as a far greater heretic.

The king refuses, is denounced by the Inquisitor and then tries to make his peace with him, though resentful that the throne has always to give way to the church. The queen rushes in demanding justice, as her jewel casket has been stolen, not knowing that it had been taken on Filippo’s orders. He orders her to open it.

The portrait of Don Carlo is revealed and she defends this on the grounds that he had once been her promised husband. When the king accuses her of adultery, she faints and he calls for help. Eboli and Rodrigo appear, the latter reproaching the king for his lack of self-control.

When the two women are left alone, Eboli confesses that it was she who betrayed the queen, jealous because she too loved Carlo, but in vain. The queen pardons her, but when Eboli confesses that she has been the king’s mistress, Elisabetta orders her either to a convent or to exile, leaving Eboli to curse the fatal gift of beauty which led to her downfall.

Scene 2. An underground prison

Rodrigo visits Carlo in prison and tells him that the papers he took from Carlo have been found in his possession and have proved him to be the leader of the rebellion. Rodrigo is shot by an officer of the inquisition and dies happy that he has been able to preserve Carlo to save Flanders. He tells him that Elisabetta will explain everything to him the next day at the emperor’s tomb.

Filippo, accompanied by grandees, appears and offers Carlo back his sword, but he accuses his father of the murder of Rodrigo, whose death the king also mourns. The people are threatening revolt unless the prince is set free. The king orders the gates to be opened and they surge in, but are subdued when the grand inquisitor orders them to kneel before the king.

Act IV

The tomb of Charles V at San Yuste

Elisabetta kneels in prayer at the tomb. She remembers happier days in France, and prepares to see Carlo for the last time. He tells her that honor has vanquished love and that he is ready to go to Flanders.

They promise to meet in a better world, but their farewell is interrupted by the king, with the Grand Inquisitor and officers of the inquisition. Carlo draws his sword to defend himself but is suddenly rescued, drawn into the monastery, apparently by Carlo V himself.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the text of Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien.

Click here for the text of Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (English translation).