Major Operas | Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic

Verdi’s five-act opera Don Carlos was taken from a drama written in 1787 by the German playwright Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). Written for the Paris Opéra, Don Carlos was first performed there on 11 March 1867.

Schiller’s play was translated and the libretto written by Joseph Méry, who unfortunately died before it was completed, and Camille du Locle, secretary of the Opéra. The libretto also included elements taken from a contemporary play by Eugène Cormon, which examined the life of King Philip II of Spain.

The resulting Don Carlos was a highly romanticized version of the brief, tragic life of Don Carlos, son and heir of Philip II, who was nothing like the gallant, ardent hero of the opera, but conspired against his father and died at age 23 in suspicious circumstances. Don Carlos, a grand opéra that juxtaposed political matters of state and church with private relationships, so dissatisfied Verdi in the original that he revised it several times. Sometimes labelled by critics as ‘sprawling’ and ‘flawed’, the opera was written with Parisian tastes in mind, which explains its spectacle and high melodrama. Dance sequences had long been a feature of French opera and the ballet in Act III, entitled ‘Le ballet de la reine’ (‘The Queen’s Ballet’), lasted a full 15 minutes. For many years Don Carlos was rarley performed as Verdi had intended it, although it is now recognized as one of his greatest works.

Composed: 1866
Premiered: 1867, Paris
Libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, after Friedrich von Schiller and Eugene Cormon

Act I

Don Carlos, son of King Philip II of Spain, is betrothed to Elisabeth de Valois, whom he has never met. In secret, he travels to France to see her. They meet in the forest at Fontainebleau and fall in love; he gives her his portrait. Thibault, a page, arrives with the news that, to settle the peace treaty between France and Spain, Elisabeth must now marry Don Carlos’s father. For the sake of peace, she reluctantly agrees.

Act II

By the tomb of his grandfather, Emperor Charles V, Don Carlos laments his loss. Monks from the nearby monastery pass by and Carlos is struck by the resemblance of one of them to the former emperor. Carlos confides in his friend Rodrigo, who encourages him to assist the Flemish people gain independence from Spanish rule. They swear allegiance to the cause.

Meanwhile, Princess Eboli sings to the ladies of the court. Elisabeth arrives and Rodrigo hands her a note from Carlos, requesting a meeting. Carlos and the queen are left alone; he declares his love for her, but she explains that nothing can be done; he leaves. Philip enters; angry at finding Elisabeth unattended, he dismisses her lady-in-waiting. Rodrigo reveals that he wants peace for Flanders. Philip confides that he suspects a relationship between his wife and his son and asks Rodrigo to investigate.


Carlos arrives at a secret meeting with a veiled lady. Assuming...

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