Sunday, April 7, 2013

Verdi's Don Carlo
I recently got CDs of this opera out of the library.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet found it possible to replace my old LP version.  Yet this opera means a lot to me - my son, too; that's his drawing - and I just had to hear it again.

Don Carlo is one of Verdi's later operas and a musically complex work.  It does not pretend to be a historical account of events during the reign of Philip II of Spain; rather, it was adapted from Friedrich Schiller's play.  Schiller, writing in the early years of the 19th century, had a revolutionary turn of mind and made the mentally challenged Carlo a would-be political hero.  Verdi, a true Risorgimento revolutionary, had it adapted for opera - all the drama he could ever want, and a lesson in liberty, too.

I, too, used this opera as a teaching tool, since I discovered my son would learn anything you could put to music.  The auto-da-fe scene, with the voice from Heaven welcoming the victims, was a great way to teach the necessity of separating church and state.  The scene in Philip's chamber, when he is forced to bow to the will of the Grand Inquisitor, is even better.  ("Then the throne must always bow to the altar," the king concludes bitterly.)

Verdi's vision of civil liberty is represented by Carlo and his (fictional) friend Rodrigo trying to get Philip to stop the persecution of Flanders under the Duke of Alva.  (This particularly vicious persecution, combined with the actions of the Conquistadors in America, ruined Spain's reputation in history.)  

I find it particularly fitting that the ghost of Charles V plays a pivotal part in the opera.  The fink who founded the Holy Roman Empire did withdraw to a cloister before his death.  In the opera, he has remained as a spirit, posing as a friar.  "The woe of the world follows us to the cloister," he intones.  "Only heaven can calm the war of the heart."  My son's drawing shows him calling to his startled grandson.  To have a good operatic ending and satisfy an old revolutionary, he appears if full regalia to Philip and the Grand Inquisitor and drags Carlo off to the safety of the cloisters.

This is wonderful, multi-leveled music, with especial beauty in the horn parts.  The characters - too many to mention here - are well drawn and believable.