There are 4 versions of Don Carlo. The first is the five-act French version which premiered in Paris in 1867. The second, a five-act Italian version which premiered in Naples in 1872. The third was a shortened to a four-act Italian version for Milan in 1884. Finally, a five-act Italian version without the ballet was made for opera house in Modena in 1886. Today, the most commonly performed are the French version of 1867 and Italian version of 1884.
The basis of Don Carlos’ libretto is Friedrich von Schiller’s play Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien
, a tragedy in five acts. Like many Verdi operas, there is a family story at the heart of this grand historic piece. With the exception of the Marquis of Posa and the Grand Inquisitor, all central characters are frustrated with love.
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, Elisabeth da Valois, Princess Eboli — are actual historical figures.
Don Carlos in real life never really was in love with his stepmother, Elisabeth. Carlos was mentally unstable, possibly due to inbreeding (common within the royal House of Hapsburg). Elisabeth da Vois was 15 (same age as her stepson, Don Carlos) when she married King Phillip II of Spain, age 33.
The real Princess Eboli was a great beauty, who wore an eyepatch, having lost one eye in a childhood accident. Most opera productions have included Eboli’s eyepatch as part of her costume.
Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Éboli
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.
Elizabeth Taylor and her dogs.
Don't miss Verdi's Don Carlo
at San Francisco Opera in Summer 2016!