10 Essential Facts About Don Carlo

by Rex Levang, Minnesota Public Radio
March 8, 2013
Ramon Vargas as the title character in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Miklos Sebestyen as Frate in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Barbara Frittoli as Elisabeth de Valois and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Anna Smirnova as Eboli and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rodrigo in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II and Barbara Frittoli as Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Barbara Frittoli as Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Ramon Vargas as the title character and Barbara Frittoli as Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rodrigo and Ramon Vargas in the title role of Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) A scene from Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II and Barbara Frittoli as Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi's "Don Carlo." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Tune in to Classical MPR on Saturday, March 9, at 10 a.m. CT to hear Verdi's Don Carlo, live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In prep for that performance, here are 10 facts which you might not know about the opera.

  1. Don Carlo (let's call it) was premiered in Paris in 1867. It's a somber drama set in 16th-century Spain, based on a play by the German writer Friedrich Schiller.
  2. In France, the opera was sung in French, and called Don Carlos. Later it was translated into Italian as Don Carlo — minus the final "s." Both versions of the title have become familiar, thus confusing many a music lover.
  3. The complex characters and dark tone of Don Carlo may have kept it from being as immediately accessible as, say, Rigoletto. But those very qualities have proved appealing in the 20th century. Today, Don Carlo is often regarded as Verdi's greatest opera.
  4. The story of Don Carlo is largely fictional, and explores the conflicts between love, friendship, idealism, and duty. But the characters — Don Carlos, King Philip of Spain, Princess Eboli — are actual historical figures.
  5. The real Princess Eboli was a great beauty, who wore an eyepatch, having lost one eye in a childhood accident. In some modern productions, Eboli's costume has included the eyepatch.
  6. The original version of Don Carlo was a long opera, and Verdi made many revisions before and after the premiere. The total amount of material composed makes it Verdi's longest opera.
  7. Verdi included a ballet in Don Carlo, though the ballet is hardly ever performed. It tells the story of a famous gemstone, a pearl called La Peregrina, which belonged to the queen of Spain. More recently, La Peregrina was owned by Elizabeth Taylor, who almost lost it when her dog started chewing on it.
  8. The Paris Opera was a wealthy and prestigious institution, but dealing with it could be demanding. Verdi composed for it, but was also wary of it, and called it la grande boutique — "the big shop."
  9. Schiller's blend of drama and big ideas must have appealed to Verdi. He based three other operas on Schiller's works. There's even a scene by Schiller interpolated into one of Verdi's other, non-Schiller operas.
  10. Don Carlo has a famously enigmatic ending. A mysterious monk appears to draw Carlo into the sanctuary of the monastery. The onlookers say, "It's Charles V!" Since it's been established that Charles V is dead, what is going on here? A ghost? A disguise? A mistake by the writers? Discuss.

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