Summary of Giuseppe Verdi. Don Carlos

Summary of Giuseppe Verdi. Don Carlos


Opera in five acts (eight scenes) 1

Libretto by J. Meri and C. du Locle in the processing of A. Gislanzoni


Philip II, King of Spain

Don Carlos, Spanish Infant

Rodrigo, the Marquis de Poza

The Grand Inquisitor,

The blind ninety-year old man

Monk (Emperor Charles V)

Elizaveta Valois

Princess Eboli

Tebaldo, the page of Elizabeth

Countess Aremberg, court lady

Count di Lerma

The Royal Herald

Voice from the sky







Mezzo soprano







The courtiers, monks, pages, six Flemish deputies, soldiers, people.

The action takes place in France and Spain in 1560.


“Don Carlos” was commissioned by Verdi in November 1865 by the director of the Bolshoi Opera in Paris; the French libretto was written by J. Meri (1798-1866) and C. du Locle (1832-1903). The opera was finished in September 1866. The premiere took place on March 11, 1867 and passed without much success. For the production in Italy in the same year, a translation was made, which entailed some changes and alterations in the music. In 1882-1883, Verdi significantly reworked the opera; in the creation of new scenes took part librettist “Aida” A. Gislantsoni (1824-1893). This edition, staged on the stage of the Milan Theater on January 10, 1884, is much shorter than the first: instead of five acts – four (the entire first act is excluded), traditional ballet scenes, traditional for the French “big opera”, etc., Verdi, but without his participation, a third edition was made, restoring the first act on the French version (in connection with which it was necessary to return to the early version of the second act). Currently, the opera is usually put

in a mixed version. It is based on the most perfect four-act version of 1884, and as a prologue is used a greatly reduced first act of the French edition. The opera finale has been shortened and revised.

The aim of all these changes was the approach of the opera to its literary source – the tragedy of F. Schiller (1787). Using a historical legend, far from modern, but popular during the XVII-XVIII centuries, Schiller gave it a political coloring. In accordance with the specifics of the opera genre, the librettists shortened the journalistic monologues, and the role of the Marquis of Pose, the main but too rhetorical hero of the Schiller drama, was drastically reduced. However, the freedom-loving spirit of the play in the opera is preserved and even strengthened due to the introduction of mass scenes absent from Schiller, showing the people – the suffering and rebellious.


In “Don Carlos” the composer with remarkable skill revealed the complex, contradictory experiences of the actors, and the clash. But the personal drama of the heroes is imbued with echoes of great historical events; because such an important place in the opera takes dramatic mass scenes.

The first act will penetrate a bright, joyful, mood. The central place is occupied by the lyrical duet of Carlos and Elizabeth, framed by the chorus of hunters and a festive anthem. The duet opens a tranquil orchestral theme; Elizabeth’s agitated melody “The secret embarrassment crept into the soul” is contrasted by the concluding wide melody, full of passionate feelings, in which the voices of the heroes, embraced by a single impulse, merge.

The second act introduces new heroes. The gloomy orchestral introduction and Monk’s aria with the chorus determine the emotional atmosphere of the entire first picture. In the lyrical romance of Carlos “The Moments merged in one breath,” the echoes of the love duet of the first act sound. A quick change of mood is distinguished by the duo of Carlos and Rodrigo; It is crowned by the heroic oath of friendship “You who sowed in your hearts.”

The second picture opens with a carefree chorus of court ladies, to which “Eboli’s Song of the Veil” is attached with characteristic oriental melodic turns and ornaments. Original later Tertzetino, where polite phrases of Rodrigo and Eboli are contrasted with recitative replicas of embarrassed Elizabeth (she reads Carlos’s note). In the center of this scene is the romance of Rodrigo “We all look at the prince with faith” with a melodious, noble melody. A great duet of Carlos and Elizabeth is rich in different moods; it begins with a sad, long melody “Come to ask me for mercy from the Queen,” which is replaced by bright lyrical themes; at the end of the duo bursts of violent dramatic feelings. Sadness is permeated with beautiful melodious melodies of the song of Elizabeth “Do not cry, my friend.”

The third act also consists of two pictures – the lyric chamber and dramatic mass. Orchestral prelude of the first painting in the spirit of nocturne develops the melody of the romance of Carlos, drawing his dreams of Elizabeth. The same sentiments remain in the duo of Carlos and Eboli. The worried thoughts of the heroes before the tragic events are embodied in the terracotta of Eboli, Carlos and Rodrigo. In the end, the orchestra again hosts the heroic theme of the oath of friendship.

The grandiose finale (the second picture) of the third act is one of Verdi’s best mass scenes. It opens and closes the solemn chorus of the people, framing the gloomy procession of the condemned. In the center is a dramatic scene with Flemish deputies. Their mournful melody grows into a large ensemble, where the angry phrases of the king and the monks are opposed by the prayers of other heroes and people.

In the first picture of the fourth act, dramaticism is steadily growing. The introduction and Philip’s monologue, “No, I did not love me,” reveals the anguish of the King; the sorrowful melodies of the orchestra are replaced by an expressive recitative, imperceptibly passing into broad chorus phrases. The dialogue of Philip and the Grand Inquisitor is permeated with a hidden drama – a clash of spirits of strong characters; short, dry cues accompanied by severe and formidable chords of the orchestra. Feverish excitement reigns in the scene of Philip and Elizabeth; some tranquility comes only in the quartet, where the muted lines of “Philip”, Eboli and Rodrigo are opposed by Elizabeth’s broad melodic line. The closing picture of the dramatic aria of Eboli “About the damn, oh beauty” characterizes her passionate, indomitable nature.

The death of Rodrigo and the mutiny – this is the content of the second picture of the fourth act. The image of Rodrigo is revealed here from the lyrical side – in soft, melodious melodies. They are contrasted by the turbulent dynamics of the mass scene.

The last act completes the drama of Elizabeth and Carlos. Gloomy choral chords precede the great aria of Elizabeth “You, who knew the vanity of all hopes and aspirations.” A severe sorrowful melody, passing into a wide, as if soaring melody, frames all the aria; in the middle, like bright memories, fragments of previous lyrical duets flit. They also sound in the farewell duo of Carlos and Elizabeth, rich in mood tones. A heroic march-like melody “The Flame of Freedom has kindled your blood” is singled out and the final duet is a solemn, restrained theme “So goodbye, in this world we will forever part.” Like the theme of rock, the last choral chords sound threateningly, accompanying the tragic denouement of the opera.

1 In productions, usually in three acts (the first and the last are turned into paintings). The scenes of Soviet theaters sometimes combine different editions of the opera.

2 This is the option that goes on the stages of Soviet theaters. Verdi’s hero does not die: at the last moment before the king appears Charles V in the imperial mantle and crown; he takes the stunned Carlos to his tomb.

Summary of Giuseppe Verdi. Don Carlos