Saturday, March 09, 2013

Don Carlo - The Story

ACT I. In the royal forest of Fontainebleau, woodcutters and their families gather around a bonfire, lamenting the winter and the war with Spain that have reduced them to poverty and misery. A hunting party from the palace arrives, including Princess Elisabeth of Valois (Elisabetta), daughter of the King of France. She asks the people to have courage, promising that a peace treaty is being signed and that conditions will improve. She leaves with the hunting party.

Don Carlo, the Crown Prince of Spain, emerges from the forest into the now empty clearing. He has caught a glimpse of Elisabetta, his betrothed, and loves her on sight. Elisabetta and her page Tebaldo appear, lost and separated from the other hunters. Don Carlo, unrecognized, salutes her and offers his protection. She sends Tebaldo away. Revealing his love, Don Carlo gives her a miniature portrait of himself, and she realizes that the stranger is her promised groom. They briefly rejoice over their love, which will bring peace to Europe. A cannon shot is heard, signaling the signing of the treaty. Tebaldo returns with a party of courtiers, saluting Elisabetta as Queen of Spain, bride of King Philip II (Filippo). Elisabetta corrects Tebaldo, saying that she is to marry the Crown Prince, not the King. But the page insists that the treaty specifies otherwise, pending Elisabetta's acceptance of the offer. Urged by the starving people to end their suffering, Elisabetta reluctantly accepts, and she and Don Carlo mourn their doomed love while the people rejoice over the end of the war.

ACT II. At the monastery of St. Just in Spain, Don Carlo prays at the tomb of the Emperor Charles V, his grandfather and Filippo's father. From the shadows of the cloister, a mysterious monk warns of the vanities of the world. Don Carlo thinks the voice is that of the Emperor, and indeed some say the Emperor's ghost wanders this place. Don Carlo meets his friend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, newly returned from Flanders, where the people suffer under Spanish domination. When Don Carlo admits he is still in love with Elisabetta, Rodrigo urges him to fight for the Flemish cause. The two men pledge friendship to the death as Filippo and Elisabetta pass to pray at the Emperor's tomb.

In a neighboring garden, Princess Eboli, the Countess of Aremberg, and the other ladies of the court entertain themselves. Eboli sings a Moorish song accompanied by Tebaldo. The queen returns from the monastery, and Rodrigo enters to give her a secret letter from Don Carlo, asking for a meeting. Elisabetta agrees to receive him, and Don Carlo is shown in as the ladies and Rodrigo withdraw. Don Carlo asks the queen to obtain Filippo's permission for him to go to Flanders and then suddenly declares his continuing love. Elisabetta breaks free of Don Carlo's embrace, and he runs away. The King enters the garden with his suite and, finding the queen unattended, banishes the Countess of Aremberg, who should have been present. Elisabetta consoles the banished countess, and she and the ladies leave.

The king orders Rodrigo to remain when the others depart, and Rodrigo bravely denounces the situation of Spanish oppression in Flanders. Filippo, impressed by Rodrigo's idealism, chooses him as a royal advisor and confides that he needs someone to watch over Don Carlo and Elisabetta, whom he suspects of betrayal. Rodrigo accepts the royal confidence, and Filippo warns him to beware the Grand Inquisitor.

Rodrigo pleads with Filippo at the auto-da-fé (Layla Claire as Tebaldo, Furlanetto, Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo, Poplavskaya)
© Beth Bergman 2013

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