The king (his own father) covets the love of his life, keeping him away from both his love and the throne, while his only friend betrays and abandons him. Thrown in such ways out of his journey through life, Don Carlo does not give up on himself despite all his desolation. He finds new courage to love and act. Although this seals his demise, hope remains at the side of people such as Don Carlo. When Verdi composed the piece based upon Friedrich Schiller’s drama of the same name, his own rational view of it showed no real opportunity for an Italy that had been freed from foreign rule – and yet his ideals were not silenced.
They were promised to one another – Don Carlos, Infante of Spain, and Elisabeth of Valois. The engaged couple had very little time to get to know each other. The Spanish king Philip II claimed the bride of the son for the long-hoped-for peace between Spain and France. Carlos’ bride became Carlos’ mother. The love remained, but became a forbidden one. Elisabeth makes it clear to Carlos: there is no longer hope for their love without becoming guilty of two deadly sins – killing the father and marrying the mother.
The Marquis of Posa has remained Carlos’ sole friend from childhood days. He advocates the liberation of the Spanish provinces in Flanders and needs the favour of the heir to the throne in order to achieve this goal.
The heir rushes to the political task with all the unconditionality of his will, with which he recently wanted to enforce his liaison with Elisabeth. He publicly challenges the king, his father, who sees his sovereignty endangered and thus sacrifices his son. Posa initially sacrifices himself for Carlos, and thus for Flanders. After all, did King Philip secure his kingdom and his queen against foreign invasion?
Giuseppe Verdi and his librettists Josephe Méry and Camille du Locle based their work on Schiller's drama, offering more than a historical spectacle. The composer, who committed portions of his life to fight against human and social injustice, and who became a symbol of the struggle for freedom of his fellow Italian countrymen, had no illusions of the overall situation in the world. He tried to make changes and he lived life.
Under his composer’s hand, Schiller's drama became a parable in the guise of a melodrama. The treatment of the material clearly opens the structures within which the life and loves of individuals run. No intimate space can be designed that lies outside of public life. While the time was not ripe for revolution as a whole in »Don Carlo«, it is ripe for individual actions for the sake of the whole. The apparent stability is shaken – for a Tomorrow with the knowledge of Today and Yesterday.
This piece plays between the burning of heretics and redemption, love and death, resignation and hope, betrayal and friendship. What is probably its most famous aria is the one of Philip – »Ella giammai m’amò« (»She never loved me«). Hatred and destruction can be found precisely where love is not present. Not the challenging kind, but the giving kind. An experience that goes beyond the person of the king, as does the fact that power becomes a fallacy if it is assumed to be separate and omnipotent.
Set and Costume Design
With kind support of the Stiftung zur Förderung der Semperoper