Commissioned by the Paris Opera, Don Carlos (in Italian, Don Carlo) was written with an eye to the tastes of the French capital. Verdi compressed the work when he revised it for Italy in the early 1880s. Shorn of its opening act, which made the political climate clear and depicted Carlo's first meeting with Elisabetta, the revision begins and ends at the cloister of St. Just. Later, the composer authorized a five-act Italian version, including the Fontainebleau scene. The librettists, Joseph Mry, who died shortly after starting it in 1865, and Camille du Locle based their text on a drama (1787) by Friedrich Schiller, who drew upon a French novel (1673) by the Abbé Saint-Ral.
The Paris premiere, on March 11, 1867, was not a great success. The work did not come into its own until the revised version reached La Scala on January 10, 1884. Don Carlo arrived in New York at the Academy of Music on April 12, 1877, but did not receive its Met premiere until December 23, 1920, conducted by Gennaro Papi. The Met's first Don Carlo was directed by Samuel Thewman and designed by Joseph Urban. In its first season, Thewman's staging included the Fontainebleau scene as well as the Act III ballet, La Pérégrina, although the Act IV interview between Filippo and the Grand Inquisitor was cut. The Fontainebleau scene was dropped by the Met in 1922, but the Grand Inquisitor scene was restored in the 1922-23 season, when Feodor Chaliapin sang three performances as Filippo opposite the Inquisitor of Léon Rothier.
On November 6, 1950, Rudolf Bing inaugurated his tenure as the Met's general manager with a new Don Carlo staging by Margaret Webster that omitted the Fontainebleau scene and the Act III ballet, and which remained in the Met repertory until 1972.
James Levine led the first performance of the Met's next Don Carlo production, directed by John Dexter, on February 5, 1979. The Dexter staging restored the Fontainebleau scene to Met Don Carlo performances.
The Met's current Don Carlo staging, directed by Nicholas Hytner, arrived on November 22, 2010, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
Among Verdi biographies, Mary Jane Phillips-Matz's study of the composer (Oxford) retains its primacy. Julian Budden's The Operas of Verdi, Volume 3: From Don Carlos to Falstaff is the most thorough of the standard reference works. Schiller's Don Carlos is available in paperback (World Classics, with Mary Stuart).
On CD, Carlo Maria Giulini's electric leadership of Luchino Visconti's 1958 Don Carlo production at Covent Garden, with Vickers, Browenstijn, Gobbi and Christoff its highly individual principals, is preserved on Myto; Giulini fields an equally vivid cast, with Domingo, Caballé, Verrett and Milnes among its glories, on his studio recording for EMI. Domingo also takes the title role in Claudio Abbado's fluid French-language Don Carlos (DG). Ferruccio Furlanetto is a trimly aristocratic Filippo II, Samuel Ramey an appropriately sepulchral Grand Inquisitor on James Levine's beautifully shaded Don Carlo with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (Sony).
On DVD, Nicholas Hytner's staging, shared by Covent Garden and the Met, is available in a 2008 performance from London. John Dexter's 1979 Metropolitan Opera production reveals the opera's epic sweep under Levine's sympathetic leadership (Pioneer). Luc Bondy's revelatory Châtelet production of Don Carlos, with Mattila, Alagna, Hampson and van Dam all in superb form under the baton of Antonio Pappano, is available in DVD and CD incarnations from EMI.
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Ferruccio Furlanetto as Filippo II in
Nicholas Hytner's production of Don
Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera
© Beth Bergman 2013