jewel casket

Don Carlos

[kahr-lohs, -luhs; Sp. kahr-laws]
This article refers to the opera Don Carlos (Don Carlo when performed in Italian translation) by Giuseppe Verdi.
For other uses, see Don Carlos (disambiguation)

Don Carlos is a five-act Grand Opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi to a French language libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry, based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien ("Don Carlos, Infante of Spain") by Friedrich Schiller. The story is based on conflicts in the life of Carlos, Prince of Asturias (1545-1568) after his betrothed Elisabeth of Valois was married instead to his father Philip II of Spain as part of the peace treaty ending the Italian War of 1551-1559 between the Houses of Habsburg and Valois. It received its first performance at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra on 11 March 1867.

Over the next twenty years, cuts and additions were made to the opera, resulting in a number of versions being available to directors and conductors. No other Verdi opera exists in so many versions. At its full-length (including the ballet and the cuts made before the first performance), it contains about four hours of music, and is Verdi's longest opera.

Revisions and translation

Pre-première cuts and first published edition

Verdi made a number of cuts in 1866, after finishing the opera but before composing the ballet, simply because the work was becoming too long. These comprised:

  • a duet for Elisabeth and Eboli in Act 4, Scene 1
  • a duet for Carlos and the King after the death of Posa in Act 4, Scene 2
  • an exchange between Elisabeth and Eboli during the insurrection in the same scene

After the ballet had been composed, it emerged during the 1867 rehearsal period that, without further cuts, the opera would not finish before midnight (the time by which patrons would need to leave in order to catch the last trains to the Paris suburbs). Verdi then authorised some further cuts, as follows:

  • The introduction to Act 1, with a chorus of woodcutters and their wives, and including the first appearance of Elisabeth
  • A short entry solo for Posa ("J'étais en Flandres") in Act 2, Scene 1
  • Part of the dialogue between the King and Posa at the end of Act 2, Scene 2

The opera, as first published at the time of the première, consisted of Verdi's original conception, minus all of the above cuts but including the ballet.

Further authorised and unauthorised Paris cuts

After the première and before leaving Paris, Verdi authorised the Opéra authorities to end Act 4, Scene 2 with the death of Posa (thus omitting the insurrection scene) if they thought fit. After his departure, further (unauthorised) cuts were apparently made during the remaining performances.

First translation into Italian

A translation of Don Carlos into Italian was in preparation by Achille de Lauzières as early as the autumn of 1866, and Verdi insisted that the opera, still referred to as Don Carlos, be given in the same five act version plus ballet as at the Paris Opera. This Italian translation - with some cuts and alterations - was presented first at the Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden in London (now the Royal Opera House) on 4 June 1867 (conductor: Michael Costa), and received its Italian premiere - uncut - at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna on 27 October of that year.

Further revisions to the music and the text

Following an unsuccessful performance in Naples in 1871, Verdi was persuaded to visit the city for further performances in 1872-3, and he made two more modifications to the score:

  • additions to the scene for Posa and the King in Act 2, scene 2 (Italian verses by Antonio Ghislanzoni) to replace some of the previously cut material. This is the only portion of the entire opera that was ever composed by Verdi to an Italian rather than a French text.
  • cuts to the duet between Carlos and Elisabeth in Act 5.

The idea of reducing the scope and scale of Don Carlos had originally come to Verdi in 1875, partly as a result of his having heard reports of productions, such as Costa's, which had removed Act 1 and the ballet and introduced cuts to other parts of the opera. By April 1882, he was in Paris where he was ready to make changes. He was already familiar with the work of Charles-Louis-Etienne Nuitter, who had worked on French translations of Macbeth, La forza del destino, and Aida with du Locle, and the three proceeded to spend nine months on major revisions of the French text and the music to create a 4-act version. This omitted Act 1 and the ballet, and was completed by March 1883.

Revised Italian translation

An Italian translation of this revised French text, re-using much of the original 1866 translation by de Lauzières, was made by Angelo Zanardini. The La Scala, Milan, première of the revision, now re-titled Don Carlo, took place on 10 January 1884.

Although Verdi had accepted the need to remove the first act, it seems that he changed his mind and allowed a performance on 29 December 1886 in Modena which presented the “Fontainebleau’’ first act along with the revised 4-act version. This version was published by Ricordi as “a new edition in five acts without ballet”.

Subsequent performance history

Performances of Don Carlos/Don Carlo in the first half of the twentieth century were rare, but in the post Second World War period it has been regularly performed, particularly in the four-act 1883 'Milanese' version. Following the notable 1958 staging of the 1886 five-act Italian version at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (director Luchino Visconti), this version has increasingly been performed elsewhere and has been recorded by, among others, Georg Solti and Carlo Maria Giulini.

Finally, stagings and recordings of the original five-act French version of the opera have become more frequent, performances having been given at the Teatro alla Scala in 1970 featuring Plácido Domingo with Katia Ricciarelli, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1996, with Roberto Alagna as Don Carlos (which has been released on CD and DVD), and at the San Francisco Opera in 2003. A five-act version with the parts not performed in the first Paris première (all the pre-première cuts) was staged at Staatsoper, Vienna (2006) and at Liceu, Barcelona; its conductor was Bertrand de Billy.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast
March 11, 1867
(Conductor: Hainl)
Revised version
Première Cast
January 10, 1884
(Conductor: - )
Philip II, King of Spain bass Louis-Henri Obin Alessandro Silvestri
Don Carlos (Don Carlo), Infante of Spain tenor A. Morère Francesco Tamagno
Rodrigue (Rodrigo), Marquis of Posa baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure Paolo Lhérie
The Grand Inquisitor bass David Francesco Navarini
Elisabeth of Valois soprano Marie-Constance Sass Abigaille Bruschi-Chiatti
Princess Eboli mezzo-soprano Pauline Gueymard-Lauters Giuseppina Pasqua
A monk bass Armand Castelmary Leopoldo Cromberg
Thibault (Tebaldo), page to Elisabeth soprano Leonia Leveilly Amelia Garten
A Voice from Heaven soprano
The Count of Lerma tenor Gaspard Angelo Fiorentini
Royal Herald tenor Mermant Angelo Fiorentini
Countess of Aremberg Silent Dominique
Flemish deputies, Inquisitors, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Spanish Court, the people, Pages, Guards, Monks, Soldiers - chorus


This synopsis is based on the original five-act version composed for Paris and completed in 1866. Important changes for subsequent versions are noted in italics. First lines of arias, etc., are given in French and Italian

Act 1

This Act was omitted in the 1883 revision

The Forest of Fontainebleau, France in winter

A prelude and chorus of woodcutters and their wives is heard. They complain of their hard life, made worse by war with Spain. Elisabeth, daughter of the King of France, arrives with her attendants. She reassures the people that her impending marriage to Don Carlos, son of the King of Spain, will bring the war to an end, and departs (This was cut before the Paris première and replaced by a short scene in which Elisabeth crosses the stage and hands out money to the woodcutters). Carlos, coming out from hiding, has seen Elisabeth and fallen in love with her (Aria: "Je l'ai vue" / "Io la vidi"). When she reappears, he initially pretends to be a member of the Count of Lerma's delegation, but then reveals his identity and his feelings, which she reciprocates (Duet: "De quels transports poignants et doux" / "Di quale amor, di quanto ardor"). A cannon-shot signifies that peace has been declared between Spain and France, and Thibault informs Elisabeth that her hand is to be claimed not by Carlos but by his father, Philip II. Lerma and his followers confirm this, and Elisabeth feels bound to accept, in order to consolidate the peace. She departs for Spain, leaving Carlos devastated.

Act 2

This Act is Act 1 in the 1883 revision

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

Monks pray for the soul of the Emperor Charles V. His grandson Don Carlos enters, anguished that the woman he loves is now married to his father. In the 1883 revision, he sings the aria "Je l'ai vue" / "Io la vidi", salvaged from the omitted first Act. A monk resembling the former emperor offers him eventual consolation of peace through God. Carlos's friend Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa, has just come from the oppressed land of Flanders (Aria: "J'étais en Flandres", cut during the pre-première rehearsals). He asks for the Infante's aid on behalf of the suffering people there. Carlos reveals that he loves his stepmother. Posa encourages him to leave Spain and go to Flanders. The two men swear eternal friendship (Duet: "Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes" / "Dio, che nell'alma infondere"). King Philip and his new wife, with their attendants, enter to do homage at Charles V's tomb, while Don Carlos laments his lost love.

Scene 2: A garden near Saint-Just

Princess Eboli sings the Veil Song ("Au palais des fées" / "Nel giardin del bello") about a Moorish King and an alluring veiled beauty that turned out to be his neglected wife. Elisabeth enters. Posa delivers a letter from France (and secretly a note from Don Carlos). At his urging (Aria: "L'Infant Carlos, notre espérance" / "Carlo ch'è sol il nostro amore"), Elisabeth agrees to see the Infante alone. Meanwhile, Eboli is hopeful that it is her that Carlos loves.

When they are alone, Don Carlos asks Elisabeth to request Philip to send him to Flanders. She promptly agrees, provoking Carlos to renew his declarations of love, which she resists because they are now mother and son. After the Infante leaves, the King finds the Queen unattended, and orders her lady-in-waiting, the Countess of Aremberg, to return to France. Elisabeth asks the Countess to say farewell to France on her behalf, and comforts her by telling her that at least she will be returning to her homeland (Aria: "Oh ma chère compagne" / "Non pianger, mia compagna"). The King approaches Posa. Refusing to listen to the latter's pleas for Flanders, he nevertheless places his trust in him, while advising him to beware of the Grand Inquisitor. This duologue was revised three times by Verdi.

Act 3

This Act is Act 2 in the 1883 revision

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

Elisabeth is tired, and wishes to concentrate on the following days'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 (this scene was omitted from the 1883 revision). The ballet, (choreographed by Lucien Petipa and entitled "La Peregrina") took place at this point in the première.

Don Carlos enters. He has received a note suggesting a tryst in the gardens, which he thinks is from Elisabeth, but which is really from Eboli, to whom he mistakenly declares his love. The disguised Eboli realizes that he thinks that she is the Queen, and Carlos is horrified that she now knows his secret. When Posa enters, she threatens to tell the King that Elisabeth and Carlos are lovers. Carlos prevents Posa from stabbing her, and she exits in a vengeful rage. Posa asks Carlos to entrust to him any sensitive political documents that he may have, and, when Carlos agrees, they reaffirm their friendship.

Scene 2: In front of the Cathedral of Valladolid

The people rejoice at the impending coronation of the King and Queen, while monks lead in those condemned to death by the Inquisition. The royal procession follows, and the King addresses the populace, but Don Carlos brings in some Flemish deputies, who plead with the King for their country's freedom. The people and the court are sympathetic, but the King, supported by the monks, orders the deputies' arrest. Carlos draws his sword against the King, whose call for the Infante to be disarmed is not obeyed until Posa steps forward. He persuades Carlos to surrender his sword, and is rewarded with a dukedom by the King. The auto-da-fe begins, and, as the flames start to rise, a heavenly voice can be heard promising peace to the condemned souls.

Act 4

This Act is Act 3 in the 1883 revision

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 that he will only sleep properly when he is in his tomb in the Escorial (Aria: "Elle ne m'aime pas" / "Ella giammai m'amò"). The blind, ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor is announced. The King asks if the Church will object to his putting his own son to death, and the Inquisitor replies that God sacrificed His own son. Ascertaining that the King has nothing more to say to him, he accuses Posa of worse crimes than Carlos, notably of being a reformist, and, when Philip protests, he implies that the Inquisition could even hold the King to account. The Inquisitor leaves, and the King reflects that he is powerless before the demands of the Church. Elisabeth enters, alarmed at the apparent theft of her jewel casket, but the King produces it and points to the portrait of Don Carlos which it contains. She protests her innocence, and, when Philip accuses her of adultery, she faints and he calls for help. Eboli and Posa appear, and a quartet ("Maudit soit le soupçon infâme" / "Ah, sii maledetto, sospetto fatale") develops. The King realises that he has wronged his wife; Posa resolves to act, though it may mean his death; Eboli feels remorse for betraying Elisabeth; the latter, recovering, expresses her despair. This quartet was revised by Verdi in 1883. The two women are left together. A duet, "J'ai tout compris", was cut before the première. Eboli confesses not only that she stole the casket because she loved Carlos and he rejected her, but, worse, she has also been the mistress of the King. Elisabeth tells her that she must go into exile or enter a convent, and exits. Eboli, alone, curses the fatal pride that her beauty has bestowed on her, chooses the convent over exile, and resolves to try to save Carlos from the Inquisition (Aria: "O don fatal" / "O don fatale").

Scene 2: A prison

Don Carlos 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 Carlos had entrusted to him (Aria, part 1: "C'est mon jour suprème" / "Per me giunto è il di supreme"). Two men, one dressed in the uniform of the Inquisition and the other carrying an arquebus, appear, unseen by Carlos and Posa. The latter is shot, and the men disappear. Posa tells Carlos that Elisabeth will meet him at Saint-Just on the following day, and says that he is content to die if his friend can save Flanders and rule over a happier Spain (Aria, part 2: "Ah, je meurs, l'âme joyeuse" / "Io morrò, ma lieto in core"). After his death, Philip enters, offering his son freedom. Carlos repulses him. A duet at this point for Carlos and the King, cut before the première, was later re-used by Verdi for the Lacrimosa in his Requiem. Bells ring, and Elisabeth, Eboli and the Grand Inquisitor arrive, while a crowd demands the release of Carlos and threatens the King. In the confusion, Eboli escapes with Carlos, while the Grand Inquisitor forces the people onto their knees and order is restored. After the première, some productions ended this Act with the death of Posa; however, in 1883 Verdi provided a much shortened version of the insurrection, as he felt that otherwise it would not be clear how Eboli had fulfilled her promise to rescue Carlos.

Act 5

This Act is Act 4 in the 1883 revision

The moonlit monastery of Saint-Just

Elisabeth kneels before the tomb of Charles V. She is committed to help Don Carlos on his way to fulfil his destiny in Flanders, but she herself longs only for death (Aria: "Toi qui sous le néant" / "Tu che le vanità"). Carlos appears and they say a final farewell (Duet: "Au revoir dans un monde où la vie est meilleure" / "Ma lassù ci vedremo in un mondo migliore"). This duet was twice revised by Verdi. Philip and the Grand Inquisitor enter: the King declares that there will be a double sacrifice, and the Inquisitor confirms that the Inquisition will do its duty. A short summary trial (omitted in 1883) follows. Carlos, calling on God, draws his sword to defend himself against the Inquisitor's guards, when, from the tomb of Charles V, the Monk emerges to lead Carlos away into the safety of the monastery. Philip and the Inquisitor are convinced that it is Charles V himself.


Selected recordings

Year Cast
(Carlo, Elizabeth, Eboli, Rodrigo, Phillip)
Opera House and Orchestra
Label Version
1958 Jon Vickers
Gré Brouwenstijn
Fedora Barbieri
Tito Gobbi
Boris Christoff
Carlo Maria Giulini,
Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: BBC Legends

Don Carlo – 5 Act
(1886 Italian - ?? version)
1965 Carlo Bergonzi
Renata Tebaldi
Grace Bumbry
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Nicolai Ghiaurov
Sir Georg Solti,
Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra
ASIN: B00000E3OE

Don Carlo – 5 Act
(1886 Italian - Unabridged Version)
1970 Plácido Domingo
Montserrat Caballé
Shirley Verrett
Sherrill Milnes
Ruggero Raimondi
Carlo Maria Giulini,
Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: EMI Classics

Don Carlo – 5 Act
(1886 Italian - Unabridged Version)
1972 André Turp
Edith Tremplay
Michelle Vilma
Robert Savoie
Joseph Rouleau
John Matheson,
BBC Singers,
BBC Concert Orchestra
Audio CD: Opera Rara,
original 1973 BBC broadcast

Don Carlos – 5 Act
(Original French Version)
1983 Plácido Domingo
Katia Ricciarelli
Lucia Valentini Terrani
Leo Nucci
Ruggero Raimondi
Claudio Abbado,
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
ASIN: B000001G68
Don Carlos - 5 Act
(Original French Version)
1984 Plácido Domingo
Mirella Freni
Grace Bumbry
Louis Quilico
Nicolai Ghiaurov
James Levine,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
(production by John Dexter)
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4085
Don Carlo – 3 Act with extended scenes
(Italian - Unabridged 5-Act Version,
presented by the Met in only 3 Acts)
1986 José Carreras
Fiamma Izzo D'Amico
Agnes Baltsa
Piero Cappuccilli
Ferruccio Furlanetto

Herbert von Karajan,
Salzburg Festival,
Berliner Philharmoniker
DVD: Sony
Don Carlo - 4 Act
1994 Luciano Pavarotti
Daniela Dessi
Luciana D'Intino
Paolo Coni
Samuel Ramey

Riccardo Muti,
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: EMI Classics
Don Carlo - 4 Act
1996 Roberto Alagna
Karita Mattila
Waltraud Meier
Thomas Hampson
José van Dam
Antonio Pappano,
Theatre du Chatelet Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Kultur Video
Don Carlos - 5 Act
(Original French Version)

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is product reference number.



  • Budden, Julian, The Operas of Verdi, Volume III, London: Cassell, Ltd, 1984 ISBN 0-304-31060-3
  • Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane, Verdi: A Biography, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994 ISBN 0-19-313204-4

External links

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