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Verdi’s Don Carlo - 21 June 2016 - San Francisco Opera, 7 pm. 



This is a very long opera.  It was 4 1/2 hours with two intermissions, five acts and six scene changes.  However, I will have to admit, it was worth the tired butt.  It was an excellent production of an opera I had not seen before. 

The opera is Verdi’s take on some history and some historical fiction where the French and Spanish are at war and in an attempt at peace, Don Carlo travels to France incognito to meet his bride via arrnged marriage, Elisabetta.  At first, he comes off as a rogue but wins over Elisabetta and after they pledge their love, news comes from her page she has instead been promised to Phillip II, Don Carlo’s father.  

Elisabetta, against her desires, agrees to marry Phillip II for the sake of peace between their countries.  In depression, Don Carlo travels to the monastery of San Yuste in Spain to pray at the tomb of his grandfather, Emperor Charles V.  There he runs into his firend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa who has come to push for saving the Flemish people.  They swear alligiance to each other until death.

Meanwhile, back at Phillip’s palace, Princess Eboli has designs on Don Carlo.  Don Carlo, however, still has maintained his love of Elisabetta, now Queen of Spain.  He asks for a favor from the Queen - permission to go to Flanders.  Inconsolable, he professes his love for the Queen but is rebuffed.  

Rodrigo, meanwhile, has gained Phillip II’s favor and he pushes the King for Don Carlo’s appointment to rule the Flemish.  He’s rebuffed but Phillip appreciates Rodrigo speaking truth to him.

Princess Eboli fools Don Carlo into thinking he will be secretly meeting the Queen.  When he discovers her ruse, he rebuffs her and she takes threatens her revenge.  Rodrigo enters and overhears her threats and immediately tries to convince Don Carlo to let him kill her.  Rodrigo believes Don Carlo is now in danger and Don Carlo entrusts some secret papers to Rodrigo.  

Later, Don Carlo arrives with a Flemish delegation to plead with Phillip II for relief in Flanders. Phillip has the delegation arrested.  Don Carlo draws his sword on his father and Rodrigo disaparms him and Don Carlo is arrested.  To celebrate, heretics condemned by the Inquisition are executed to the pleasure of the court.

Phillip II, obtains permission from the Grand Inquisitor to put his son to death but the Grand Inquisitor only agrees if he is allowed to put Rodrigo (a threat to the Inquisition) to death.  The King agrees.  

Princess Eboli realizes her mistake and throws herself upon the mercy of the Queen. The Queen banishes her and Princess Eboli choses to go into a nunnery as pentance.  Rodrigo visits Don Carlo in prison and tells Don Carlo he has taken it upon himself to claim the secret papers as his own.  He is assasinated by agents of the Grand Inquistor and Don Carlo escapes in the confusion.

Elisabetta goes to he San Yuste monastery to pray for her life to end when Don Carlo enters.  She wants Don Carlo to escape to Flanders.  As they say their goodbyes, Phillip II and the Grand Inquisitor enter and as Don Carlo is about to be taken away, a voice from the grave, Emperor Charles V states suffering in impossible to escape and ceases only when in heaven.  The curtain drops.

You really don’t know what happens to Don Carlo in the end, whether he is killed by the Inquisition or he’s taken to heaven by Charles V.  

I found Michael Fabiano excellent as Don Carlo and Mariusz Kwiecień outstanding as Rodrigo.  As a matter of fact, this was the strongest male cast I have ever seen in an opera.  Ana María Martinez was good as Elizabetta, but Nadia Krasteva stole the show from her.

Most of the set design was sparse but functional.  You were left to imagine certain things but with the setting, music and singing, that was easily accomplished.  

All-in-all, it was an outstanding evening of opera and one of the better productions by San Francisco Opera.  Image from the San Francisco Opera web site.


© Fred Searcy 2017