SFOpera - Music Director's Note

Music Director's Note

As someone who has conducted most of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, I can say with certainty that Don Carlo is the most important project that was undertaken by Verdi since the start of his career. One reason why it is so powerful is the long creative process that it took Verdi to complete it. The first version, which premiered in 1867, was out of deference to French grand opera with its ballet and epic scale. (The story goes that this original version of Don Carlos still had to be cut by half an hour because the last train left Paris for the suburbs at 12:25 a.m.) The Italian version we are doing, sans ballet, is called the “Modena version” for its 1886 premiere in Modena, Italy.

Personally, I think that Verdi and the French language don’t match so well. Of course, I have huge respect for those who are convinced of the contrary, but I still think that the Italian language is what this music needs. Approved by Verdi himself and preferred today by many opera companies, this Don Carlo version is proof that Verdi needed to put his final stamp on this magnificent work, and his final word was, in fact, in Italian.

Don Carlo is the sum of Italian romanticism. Many people cite the grandeur of the duets between Elisabetta and Carlo, for example, or the dramatic confrontation between Philip and the Grand Inquisitor. But, in truth, every page of this opera is a masterwork; every single detail is just what an opera should be. The harmonies are extraordinary as is the orchestration. Much of the orchestration is the same that Verdi used for Aida but for a distinctive use of four bassoons, as in the Requiem, and two piston cornets and trumpets. There is also a dramatic effect with a tam-tam (a type of gong) at the end. But what is really amazing is the quality of the music itself. I hope you will enjoy this performance. For a night with Don Carlo is a long evening of joy and mystic revelations.

The Real People in Don Carlo
Verdi at His Most Ambitious