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Verdi's 'Don Carlo' -
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'The chief glory ... is Zeffirelli's staging.'

Verdi: Don Carlo. © 2004 EMI Records Ltd

With Don Carlo Verdi comes as near as he ever got to writing operatic history in the Russian manner. Philip II of Spain made a profound impression on him as early as 1863, when he described the Escurial as 'severe and terrible, like the savage monarch who built it'. His Grand Inquisitor has no problem in justifying to Philip the slaughter of his son Carlo: if God could do it, so of course could a mortal king. If Verdi's history is wobbly, the fault is rather Schiller's, on whose play the opera is based. Schiller went on to become professor of history at Jena; Verdi sensibly stuck with music.

Luciano Pavarotti in the title role of Verdi's 'Don Carlo'. DVD screenshot © 1994 RAI/EMI Records Ltd
Luciano Pavarotti in the title role of Verdi's 'Don Carlo'. DVD screenshot © 1994 RAI/EMI Records Ltd

Don Carlo is almost an aleatoric opera. I'm not suggesting that producer and conductor sit down with a pair of dice before deciding which of Verdi's many versions to plump on, or indeed whether to pick and mix. Muti and Zeffirelli have chosen a four-acter, but the Carlo of Pavarotti enters as he did only in 1884 at this same La Scala [listen -- 'Io l'ho perduta! ...' (Act 1 Scene 1), DVD 1 chapter 3, 0:00-1:34]. The historical Carlo was a poor thing, headstrong, unbalanced, son of a Portuguese royal mother, and eventually locked up by his father whom he loathed. In prison he ate too much, slept on ice and died when just 23. His involvement with Elizabeth of Valois is make-believe but also excellent drama. He had equally little to do with his father's previous marriage to 'bloody' Mary of England.

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Copyright © 9 October 2005 Robert Anderson, London UK


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