“Don Carlo” is Verdi’s longest opera, an epic historical marathon, set in 1559 opening in the Forest of Fontainebleau on the day of the peace treaty between France and Spain. It is hailed as Verdi’s most complex yet visually and orchestrally sensational opera. There is no doubt the plot is at times bewildering and totally overwhelming, as it contains a tangled spider’s web of political and theological themes all wrapped up in the usual tragic opera subjects of love, religion, betrayal and revenge.
The story itself is based to some extent on historical events at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, particularly focusing on the conflicts in the short life of Carlos, the Prince of Asturias.
There is no other opera by Verdi which has so many forms; it was created as “Don Carlos” in the French language or as “Don Carlo” in Italian, although several different versions of the Italian opera exist. As “Don Carlos” it was an epic five-act opera set to a French libretto and Verdi went on to create an Italian version, “Don Carlo”.
Given the length of the opera and the numerous cuts and changes, so many variations of the masterpiece are available for directors to choose from.
The performance opens with a delicate love scene between Don Carlo, son of Filippo II the King of Spain, and Princess Elisabetta. Of course, this tender love and gentle beginning is just never going to lead to a fairytale ending; this is Verdi after all and there are nearly four hours of opera still to go.
Verdi loves a dark and complicated twist and he has added these to perfection in “Don Carlo”; Elisabetta is cruelly ripped away from Don Carlo by her father and is promised to Filippo II as a peace treaty between France and Spain, which sends Don Carlo into a spiral of heart-wrenching misery. This is his beloved now about to marry his own father, which is enough to drive anyone into a state of frenzy and insanity.
You might wonder why opera has such relevance to the modern audience, especially something so historical that is set nearly half a century ago, but open any scandal magazine and you will find some story such as “My fiancée ran off with my father”.
Yes, this does not happen to so many people but as long as there is love, passion and human emotion involved, opera is always going to have contemporary relevance.
Add to the plot the beautiful Princessa d’Eboli, who is hopelessly in love with Don Carlo, and a somewhat malevolent ghost of his own grandfather, which messes with his head further, all set against a wider political and religious background, and you have the greatest opera Verdi produced.
Directed by András Mikó, Attila B. Kiss stars as Don Carlo, András Palerdi as Filippo II, Csilla Boross as Elisabetta and Erika Gál as La Principessa d’Eboli.
The opera blends the magnificent orchestral score of Verdi with gripping drama. Essentially there is a constant conflict between love and duty, the heart versus the rational. The music shifts between tender tragic love duets and epic choral set pieces with its central characters, who are all bound together by blood or love.
It is an opera that is not frequently performed and is claimed to be the ultimate opera lovers’ opera; heavy, serious, tragic and confusing, yet beautifully composed with wonderful settings and a strong storyline.
It is a rarity and not to be missed.
“Don Carlo” by Verdi
Hungarian State Opera
II János Pál Pápa tér 30, District VIII
Until Saturday December 5
For tickets and information go to www.jegymester.hu