Don Carlo

Giuseppe Verdi
  • Friday, September 25, 2015 at Seven O' Clock PM
  • Century II Concert Hall

Setting and Synopsis


Spain, 16th Century


  • Act I:

    Scene 1: The monastery of Saint-Just (San Jerónimo de Yuste) in Spain

    King Philip II of Spain has married Princess Elisabeth of France as part of peace negotiations, although she had originally been betrothed to Philip’s son, Don Carlo. Monks pray for the soul of the former Emperor Charles V. Carlo enters, anguished that the woman he loves is now his stepmother.


    A monk resembling Carlo Quinto offers him eventual consolation of peace through God, an early herald of one of the opera’s themes. Carlo greets his great friend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, who has just arrived from the oppressed land of Flanders.


    Posa asks for the Prince’s aid on behalf of the suffering people there. Carlo reveals that he loves his stepmother. Posa is sympathetic but encourages him to leave Spain and go to Flanders. The two men swear eternal friendship. King Philip and his new wife, with their attendants, enter also to do homage at Charles V’s tomb, while Don Carlo laments his lost love.


    Scene 2: A garden near Saint-Just

    Princess Eboli sings the Veil Song about a Moorish King and an alluring veiled beauty that turned out to be his neglected wife. Elisabeth enters. Posa gives her a letter from France together, secretly, with a note from Don Carlo. At his urging, Elisabeth agrees to see the Prince alone. Unaware of this relationship, Eboli infers that she, Eboli, is the one Don Carlo loves.


    When they are alone, Don Carlo tells Elisabeth that he is miserable, and asks her to request Philip to send him to Flanders. She promptly agrees, provoking Carlo to renew his declarations of love, which she piously rejects. Don Carlo exits in a frenzy, shouting that he must be under a curse. The King enters and becomes angry because the Queen is alone and unattended. He orders the lady-in-waiting who was meant to be attending her, the Countess of Aremberg, to return to France, prompting Elizabeth to sing a sorrowful goodbye-aria. The King approaches Posa, with whose character and activism he is impressed, intent on rewarding him. Posa begs the King to stop oppressing the people of Flanders. The King calls Posa’s idealism unrealistic and warns that the Grand Inquisitor is watching him; Philip nevertheless asks if he can grant Posa another request.


  • Act II:

    Scene 1: Evening in the Queen’s garden in Madrid

    Elisabeth is tired, and wishes to concentrate on the following day’s coronation of the King. To avoid the divertissement planned for the evening, she exchanges masks with Eboli, assuming that thereby her absence will not be noticed, and leaves.


    Don Carlo enters, clutching a note suggesting a tryst in the gardens. Although he thinks this is from Elisabeth, it is really from Eboli, to whom he mistakenly declares his love. When Eboli discloses her identity and that she now knows his secret – that he was expecting the Queen – Carlo is horrified. When Posa enters, she threatens to tell the King that Elisabeth and Carlo are lovers. Eboli only just escapes from being stabbed by Posa, on Carlo’s intervention, and exits in a vengeful rage. Just in case, Posa asks Carlo to entrust to him any sensitive political documents that he may have and, when Carlo agrees, they reaffirm their friendship.


    Scene 2: In front of the Cathedral of Valladolid


    Preparations are being made for an Auto-da-fé, the public parade and burning of condemned heretics. While the people celebrate, monks drag the condemned to the woodpile. A royal procession follows, with the King addressing the populace. Don Carlo interrupts it by bringing forward six Flemish envoys, who plead with the King for their country’s freedom. Although the people and the court are sympathetic, the King, supported by the monks, orders the deputies’ arrest. Carlo draws his sword against the King. The King calls for help but the guards will not attack Don Carlo. Posa steps in and persuades Carlo to surrender his sword. The King uses it to dub Posa Duke, the woodpile is fired and, as the flames start to rise, a heavenly voice can be heard promising peace to the condemned souls.


  • Act III:

    Scene 1: Dawn in King Philip’s study in Madrid


    Alone, the King, in a reverie, laments that Elisabeth has never loved him, that his position means that he has to be eternally vigilant and – returning to a central theme – that he will only sleep properly when he is in his tomb in the Escorial. The blind, ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor is announced and shuffles into Philip’s apartment. When the King asks if the Church will object to him putting his own son to death, the Inquisitor replies that the King will be in good company: God sacrificed His own son. The King questions such an extreme approach. However, undaunted, the Inquisitor demands that the King have Posa killed. The King refuses to kill his friend, whom he admires and likes, objecting to such wanton cruelty. However, the old monk reminds Philip that the Inquisition can take down any king; he has created and destroyed other rulers before. Somewhat taken aback, the King suggests the Grand Inquisitor forget about the past discussion. The latter replies “Forse!” – perhaps! – and leaves. In a moment of continuing high drama, Elisabeth enters, alarmed at the apparent theft of her jewel casket. However, the King produces it and points to the portrait of Don Carlo which it contains, accusing her of adultery. She protests her innocence but, when the King threatens her, she faints. In response to his calls for help, into the chamber come Eboli and Posa. Their laments of suspicion cause the King to realize that he has wronged his wife. Posa then resolves to save Carlo, though it may mean his own death. Eboli feels remorse for betraying Elisabeth; the latter, recovering, expresses her despair.


    Elisabeth and Eboli are left together. Eboli confesses that not only did she steal the casket because she loved Carlo and that he had rejected her, but also because she has been the King’s mistress. Elisabeth takes this in her stride and tells Eboli that she must go into exile or enter a convent. After she exits, Eboli curses the fatal pride that her beauty has bestowed on her, chooses the convent over exile and resolves to try and save Carlo from the Inquisition.


    Scene 2: A prison


    Don Carlo has been imprisoned. Posa arrives to tell him that he will be saved but that he himself will have to die, incriminated by the politically sensitive documents which he had asked Carlo to entrust to him. A shadowy figure appears and shoots Posa in the chest. As he dies, Posa tells Carlo that Elisabeth will meet him at Saint-Just the following day. He adds that he is content to die if his friend can save Flanders and rule over a happier Spain. At that moment, Philip enters, offering his son freedom. Carlo repulses him for having murdered Posa. The King has not noticed that Posa is dead and cries out in sorrow.


    Bells ring as Elisabeth, Eboli and the Grand Inquisitor arrive. The crowd threatens the King, demanding the release of Carlo and, in the confusion, Eboli escapes with Carlos. Although the people are brave enough in the presence of the King, they are terrified by the Grand Inquisitor, instantly submitting to his angry command to quieten down and pay homage to Philip.


  • Act IV:


    The moonlit monastery of Yuste

    Elisabeth kneels before the tomb of Charles V. She is committed to help Don Carlo on his way to fulfill his destiny in Flanders, but she herself longs only for death. Carlo appears and they say a final farewell, promising to meet again in Heaven.


    Philip and the Grand Inquisitor enter. The King has submitted to the church’s domination and declares that there will be a double sacrifice: Posa and Carlo. The Inquisitor confirms that the Inquisition will do its duty. A short summary trial follows, confirming Carlo’s putative culpability.


    Carlo, calling on God, draws his sword to defend himself against the Inquisitor’s guards, when an old Monk suddenly emerges from the tomb of Charles V. He grabs Carlo by the shoulder, proclaiming that the turbulence of the world persists even in the Church; once again, we cannot rest except in Heaven. Philip and the Inquisitor recognize the Monk’s voice as that of the King’s father, former Emperor Carlo V. Everyone screams in shock and terror, whilst the Monk/former Emperor drags Carlo forcibly into the tomb and closes the entrance.