Giuseppe Verdi

Don Carlo

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Don Carlo

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Don Carlo, created after Joseph Méry’s and Camille du Locle’s French libretto for the Paris Opera, is based on Friedrich Schiller’s 1787 play “Don Carlos, Infante of Spain.” It is important to note that when Schiller conceived his drama, he used various sources, some of which are questionable or influenced by revisionist theories, rumors, and sensationalistic tendencies toward scandals. Nevertheless, the unity between historical facts, drama, and Verdi’s grand opera is evident in the fact that the marriage between the Spanish King Philip II and the teenage princess Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of Catherine de’ Medici and Henry II, was crucial for the political and cultural rapprochement between Spain and France.

The complex and often conflicting family relationships reveal that Carlos, the titular character of Schiller’s drama and Verdi’s opera, is the son of the Spanish King Philip II and his first wife, Maria of Portugal, who died two days after Carlos’s birth due to complications during childbirth. After Carlos’s birth, he was entrusted to the care of Philip’s sister, Regent Joanna, until Philip II married Elizabeth of Valois in 1560, with whom he also emotionally bonded with Carlos.

Verdi’s opera and Schiller’s drama draw from a historical pre-context of conflicting and competitive romantic relationships, moral obligations, and unrealized political ideals. In this sense, Verdi’s grand and also “newly imagined” or reimagined historical opera “Don Carlo(s)” – in either the French or Italian version – appears as a complex dramatic panorama of human passions, woven between the six most prominent figures – Philip II, his son Don Carlos, Queen Elizabeth (formerly Don Carlos’s fiancé, whom his father married), Princess Eboli, Rodrigo, and the Grand Inquisitor.

Verdi’s ethos and sense of justice, which arose from reading fundamental philosophical and artistic works of the Enlightenment, including Schiller’s drama, were especially evident during the composition of the opera Don Carlo(s), reflected in the composer’s emphasis on human dignity, brotherhood, and personal freedom. Verdi’s artistic manifesto against absolutism – whether secular or ecclesiastical – was conveniently placed in 16th-century Spain, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition when the boundary between secular and ecclesiastical authority was far from clear, and personal aspirations and intimate desires were often suppressed or sacrificed for the “greater good.”

In line with the psychologically crafted musical drama, it is no surprise that Verdi dedicated much of his creative energy not only to the mighty scenes and demanding arias but also to the musical embodiment of spiritual nobility, such as in Rodrigo’s aria “Io morro, ma lieto in core.” The opera’s end is also surprising, lacking any intervention from a higher power (in the sense of “deus ex machina”) – nobody but Don Carlos himself saves the condemned Don Carlos from death.

In conclusion, “Don Carlo” is one of Verdi’s most complex, multilayered operas, merging historical facts, dramatic art, and human passion into a masterpiece of music drama. Thank you for your attention.

3. 3. 2023,
3 hours and 40 minutes
1 intermission



Set designer, Lighting designer
Wolfgang von Zoubek
Sandra Dekanić
Maša Kolar
Choir leader
Zsuzsa Budavari Novak
Assistant to the Director
Tim Ribič

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