Don Carlos (fr.), Opera by G. Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi made his mark in the operatic pantheon with his inimitable sense for drama, his musical imagination, and his willingness to cross boundaries and redefine conventional genres. A lifelong admirer of great storytellers like William Shakespeare and Friedrich Schiller, the Maestro developed music’s narrative qualities to unprecedented heights. Don Carlos, based on Schiller’s famous drama Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien (German for Don Carlos, Infante of Spain), marked a high point in the composer’s career. With a French libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle and five acts, the grand opéra premiered at Salle Le Peletier in Paris on 11 March 1867. The music and the onstage action were impressive, but the sheer length of the performance proved challenging to French audiences at the time. Verdi undertook several revisions and cuts as a result. This season, the Vienna State Opera revives the unabridged original French version of Don Carlos that shows the Italian composer’s unadulterated artistic vision.
The Vienna revival stays true to the impressive blueprint Verdi first premiered in 1867. A number of scenes and musical passages that have long been absent from conventional productions can shine once more. Not pressed for time anymore, the relationships between the main characters truly blossom and their motivations become clearer. Verdi’s evocative score and Schiller’s dramatic plot get a masterful interpretation courtesy of the talented soloists, nimble ballet dancers, and breath-taking stage designs of the Wiener Staatsoper. The original Don Carlos may have been unusually long to Parisian audiences in the mid-19th century, but it feels natural and enthralling in Vienna today.
The opera’s plot is dominated by the romance between Don Carlos, the Spanish crown prince, and Elisabeth of Valois. Even though the two share a love that is strong and pure, their happiness seems doomed. The prince’s father, King Philip II, driven by pride and politics, wants to claim Elisabeth for himself. An intense drama ensues that is ripe with betrayal, plot twists, and tension that does not let up until the end of the final act.