I downloaded Schiller’s (1759-1805) play “Don Carlos” (1787) and didn’t make it through Act 1. And I consider myself a sophisticated reader, fond of antiquities.
Hmm, antiquities and “download” don’t really belong in the same sentence.
Thank goodness for Verdi and his librettists (Méry and du Locle for the original French version, 1867). They “solve” the issue with abbreviation, and of course the stirring music.
The historical play, loosely based on the real Don Carlos of Spain (1545-1568), was set to music four times in the 19th century before Verdi. Schiller himself based his play on an earlier (17th c.) French novel.
Poor old Carlos, son of King Phillip II, was an epileptic, and probably what we would call “neurotic” as well. Yes, he died at age 23. It’s a soap opera without soap. Phil’s wife, Elisabeth de Valois, was Carlos’ fiancée originally. Then there’s Princess Eboli, in love with DC.
Everything about the Verdi opera is fluid, from the massive reworking(s) he gave it over a twenty year period, translating it into Italian. You can never see a real “authentic” Don Carlos, only someone’s version of it.
The arias and ensembles are grand, some of Verdi’s most complex. Favorite themes of masquerade and betrayal, along with political ideals, fuel the drama.
I remember Delora Zajic planting her big tree trunk legs in the stage of the Met and singing Eboli with the furious intensity and big sound that Verdians thrill to, even if her acting was less than subtle.
As DC says: “Those who watch men’s looks and carry tales about, have done more mischief in this world of ours than the assassin’s knife or poisoned bowl.” Take that TMZ.
© 2011 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs
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