Opera insidel, don Carlos, Verdi, Synopsis, Handlung

Online opera guide & synopsis to Giuseppe Verdi’s DON CARLO

Don Carlos is an opera for great voices. Each of the six main characters receives a convincing dramatic foundation and development, and each singer has great musical highlights. Schiller wrote a brilliant literary model with his novel “Don Karlos” . It is a play about freedom and human dignity of the age of enlightement, which ignited the spark of inspiration in Verdi. No other work by Verdi has such a far-reaching plot and the power of five acts.






♪ Act I  (Fontainebleau scene)

♪ Act II  (Monastery Scene I)

♪ Act III  (Garden Scene, Autodafé)

♪ Act IV  (Inquisitor Scene, Jealousy Scene, Prison Scene)

♪ Act V  (Monastery Scene II)


♪ Recording recommendation



Fontainebleau…Io la vidi e al suo sorriso

Di qual amor, di qual ardor (Love duet)

Dio, che nell’alma infondere (Friendship duet)

Nel giardin del bello 

Spuntato ecco il dí d’esultanza (Autodafé)

Ella giammai m’amò

O don fatale

Carlo, ascolta (Posa’s death scene)

Tu che la vanità … Francia nobile suol 

Ma lassù ci vedremo in un mondo migliore  












Paris, 1867


Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, based on the drama Don Karlos by Friedrich Schiller.


Philip II, Spanish King (bass) - Don Carlo, son of Philip and heir to the Spanish throne (tenor) - Rodrigo, Count of Posa (baritone) - Grande Inquisitore, the Grand Inquisitor of Spain (bass) - Elizabeth, daughter of the French King (soprano) - Princess of Eboli, close confidante of Elizabeth (mezzo-soprano).


EMI, Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo, Shirley Verrett, Sherill Milnes and Ruggiero Raimondi conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and the Royal Opera House Convent Garden Orchestra and Ambrosian Opera Chorus.









The opera for the 1867 world exhibition

With the French version of the Trovatore, Verdi had finally established himself in Paris in the eighteen hundred fifties. In the run-up to the 1867 World Exhibition, Verdi was approached to compose a work for the occasion. In the meantime the Italian theaters were no longer able to pay Verdi’s fees, so Verdi accepted the offer of the Parisian grand opéra and began work quickly in 1865.


Literary and historical background

Before Don Carlos, Verdi had already used material by Friedrich Schiller for his operas (I masnadieri, Giovanna d’arco, Luisa Miller), but they never achieved the success and quality of his other operas. He held Schiller in high esteem and wanted to make another attempt.

70 years earlier Schiller wrote a brilliant literary model with his novel “Don Karlos” . It is a play about freedom and human dignity of the age of enlightement, which ignited the spark of inspiration in Verdi. No other work by Verdi has such a far-reaching plot and the power of five acts.

The historical background of the drama is quite real, but much of the plot is freely invented. Especially the characters of Don Carlo and Posa did not exist in this form. The real Infante was physically and mentally inferior and died at the age of 23 and there was no Marquese de Posa. On the other hand, there was the marriage between Elizabeth and Philip. But the “old man” Philip of Verdi’s libretto was in fact only slightly older than thirty years in the year of his marriage to Elisabeth.



The libretto

The Paris Grand Opéra had clear guidelines as to what a libretto and a production should look like. For this reason, a French librettist, Joseph Méry, was commissioned to write the text. However, Méry died in the middle of the work.  The task of completion was taken over by Camille du Locle, who subsequently got along well with Verdi, who was not always easy, and years later would do important preparatory work on Aida.



Verdi’s 20-year mending of the opera

When Verdi turned to Don Carlo, the classical number operas of his middle creative years were behind him. Don Carlo was a key opera on the way to the musical dramas of Falstaff and Otello. This weighty development into a musical drama cost Verdi a great deal of energy, and so Don Carlo was repeatedly reworked over a period of 20 years. Already after the failure of the premiere, Verdi reworked the work because of its excessive length. He was deeply affected by the accusation of “Wagnerism”, “which was only a code word for ‘no longer the old Verdi’ (Abbate/Parker, “History of Opera”). There are a total of seven (!) different versions of the opera and the variety of productions is correspondingly great.



German and French speaking versions

Verdi left the opera in Italian and French. This Opera Portrait follows the Italian-language version consisting of 5 acts, since in our times practically all productions are in this language.



The difficult performance history of the opera

The five-actversion is the most convincing from a dramatic point of view, the price to be paid is that the audience has to spend five hours in the theatre, including stage alterations.

The costly play for the grand opéra was only affordable for the major theatres of Paris and London, but Verdi overburdened the theatres of his home country. “After Verdi attributed the furious failure of Don Carlo in Naples to the general inability of the Teatro di San Carlo to perform operas with ‘higher intelligence’, he wrote to a friend quite harshly: ‘Finally get this! Either you reform the theatre or go back to the cavatinas!'” (Denze-Höring, Verdi’s operas).  In the end, however, Verdi was prepared to compromise in order to create a redimensioned four-act version for La Scala in 1872 (the frequently performed so-called “Milan version”). Last but not least, he feared that the opera in its original form might disappear from the repertoire.


Synopsis: Near the Château de Fontainebleau. It is winter and the rural population is starving and suffering from the consequences of the Spanish-French war. Elisabeth is hunting with her entourage.

Right in the first scene we hear a choir. The choir takes a prominent position throughout the whole opera. Again and again he accompanies big scenes in manifold roles. Be it as a hunting party or later as monks, participants in executions or rebels. The grand opéra called for great scenes and Verdi provided the spectacle with Don Carlo. The effort was gigantic, “the mere fact that for the premiere no fewer than 535 costumes were needed for this one opera takes your breath away” (Abbate/Parker,

Su Cacciator  –  Giulini


“Io la vidi e al suo sorriso” – Don Carlo falls in love with Elisabeth

Synopsis: Don Carlo the Infante of Spain is on his way to the castle. There he should meet Elisabeth, his future bride. He sees her pass by with her entourage and falls head over heels in love with her.

Don Carlo is not a tenor opera. The figure of Don Carlo remains the paleest among the leading roles of this opera and apart from this scene at the beginning, the tenor does not have a great solo scene. Even worse, normally he does not receive much applause after the aria “io la vidi”. So there are hardly any recordings from the first half of the 20th century of Caruso and Lauri-Volpi & Co. Of the great tenors, Jussi Björling was the first to take othis pera seriously again and has sung it on stage 15 times. The first time he sang it at the memorable opening of Rudolf Bing’s first year as director of the MET in 1950, The dispute between Bing who wanted to increase rehearsals to rise quality and  Björling who often skipped them, then led to tension between the two and has become legend. An anecdotal side note to this production in 1950: at 39 years of age Björling was the oldest of the exquisite cast and ironically 12 years older than his “stage father” Siepi, who sang Philipp. We hear from this MET production the opening aria sung by Jussi Björling.

Io l’ho perduta…Io la vidi e al suo sorriso (1)  –  Björling


Depending on the libretto version, the introductory part of this aria begins differently. The four-act version (corresponds to that of Björling) starts with “l’ho perduta” while the five-act version (starting with the Fontainebleau act) has the introduction “Fontainebleau foresta immensa”. We hear now this latter version by Placido Domingo. This piece goes very well with Domingo’s soft, legato tenor, who sings the scene much more idiomatically than the Swede.

Fontainebleau…Io la vidi e al suo sorriso (2)  –  Domingo


We listen to a third recording by Claudio Bergonzi. It is a noble and inspired interpretation that makes the beauty of Bergonzi’s lyrical voice (a Verdi tenor par excellence) blossom.

Fontainebleau…Io la vidi e al suo sorriso (3)  –  Bergonzi


The love duet

Synopsis: At dusk, on his way to the castle, Don Carlos meets Elizabeth and her page Tebaldo, who have lost their way in the forest. When they see the stranger, Don Carlos reveals himself to be Spanish. While Tebaldo goes into the castle to call for the palanquin, the two remain among themselves. Soon Elisabeth feels attracted to the spaniard and she realizes that she has met her future fiancé, whom she will marry to seal the peace treaty between Spain and France. The two joyfully sing of their love and their future marriage.

The 1970 recording of Giulini is one of the most recommended recordings in the Don Carlo discography. The young Domingo convinced with his youthful voice and the wonderful timbre and Caballé as Elisabetta who was at the zenith of her art in 1970. She showed Elisabeth as a melancholic and vulnerable queen.

Di qual amor, di qual ardor  –  Domingo / Caballé



The disillusionment

Synopsis: When Tebaldo returns, he welcomes Elizabeth as Queen and wife of Philip the Second. Horrified, the two must realize that plans have changed and Elizabeth is now to marry Carlos’ father.

L’Ora fatale è sonnata –  Domingo / Caballé


Synopsis: The Count of Lerma, the envoy of Spain approaches with a large entourage.

Inni di festi  –  Levine



Elisabeth’s renunciation for reason of state

Synopsis: In the name of the king he proposes to her. With dying voice, Elizabeth says yes.

This finale of act I is musically and dramatically grandiose. The contrast between the cheering of the people and the tragedy of Don Carlos casts a bright light on the infante. In a Meyerbeer version a grandiose mass scene would conclude this act, Verdi presents the main character in an intimate moment of his greatest despair.

Il glorioso Re di Francia – 







Synopsis: In the monastery of San Giusto. Monks are singing a psalm

With the opening scene of the second act Verdi has written a great and effective mass scene in a church. The choir of the monks sounded in the famous “chiaroscuro”, the alternation between light major and dark minor. It is reminiscent of the priest scenes of Nabucco.

We see an excerpt from a production of La Scala in Milan.

Carlo il sommo Imperatore  –  Muti



Posa visits Don Carlo in the monastery – the famous duet «Dio, che nell’alma infondere»

Synopsis: Don Carlos seeks his peace of mind in the convent, he cannot forget the pain of the loss of Elizabeth. Suddenly he hears a familiar voice. His friend Posa has returned from Flanders and visits him in the convent. Posa has heard of Don Carlos’ fate. He persuades him to dedicate his life to Flanders, which is oppressed by the Inquisition. Don Carlo joins in enthusiastically and the two of them swear eternal friendship. Soon Elizabeth and the king arrive at the convent. When the eyes of Don Carlo and Elisabeth meet, they both tremble.

The two of them dream of a better world in which intellect and humanity reign. With Don Carlos and even more so with the Marquis de Posa, Verdi and Schiller draw two ideal human beings who probably never existed in this way. Their hymn is repeatedly quoted throughout the opera as a leitmotif as a sign of freedom and friendship.

We hear as a first recording of this duet the one from the Giulini recording with Placido Domingo and Sherill Milnes.

Io l’ho perduta! …  Dio, che nell’alma infondere (6:45) (1)  –  Domingo / Milnes


We hear a second recording from Robert Merrill and Jussi Björling. They formed the duet dream couple of the 50s. They did many productions together and there were few vocal connections before and after, that could compare with the Swedish and American. The two singers were also friends in private, and so this scene became the most famous piece of this duet pair.

Io l’ho perduta! …  Dio, che nell’alma infondere (6:45) (2)  –  Merrill / Björling



Eboli’s appearance with the “Moorish song”

Synopsis: Near the monastery, the entourage waits for the return of the royal couple. The Princess of Eboli sings a Saracen song to pass the time.

This piece, called “Moorish Song” is quite demanding with its ornaments and trills. These technical difficulties must be mastered effortlessly so that the singer can sing the aria with “spirit and grace” (as Maria Callas had formulated it in her famous masterclass). We hear a recording by Fiorenza Cossotto, who knows to master this difficulty remarkably well.

Nel giardin del bello  –  Cossotto



Elisabeth and Eboli become rivals

Synopsis: The queen returns to the retinue. Shortly thereafter, Posa appears with a letter from the King of France and secretely hands the Queen a second letter from Don Carlos, hidden in the box. It says, “By the memory that unites us both, trust this man, Carlos”. Posa asks the Queen to receive Don Carlo, as he is suffering from the alienation from his father. With beating hearts, Elisabeth grants this request to Posa. Eboli, who is witness to the conversation, has fallen in love with the Spaniard and asks herself wether he might reciprocate her feelings.



Elisabeth and Don Carlos meet

Synopsis: Don Carlo appears. Elisabeth sends her escort away and Don Carlo asks Elisabeth to lobby for him to be sent to Flanders as governor. Elisabeth agrees. Emotions overpower Carlo and he summons her love. Elisabeth has difficulty maintaining her posture, but does not respond to it out of a sense of duty. Don Carlo runa out of the room.

An important element of Verdi’s compositional style was to give each opera its own character, the so-called “tinta musicale”, which he recorded even before the actual compositional work. In Don Carlo the melancholy belongs to it, which we hear exemplarily in this piece. Especially the second half, introduced by Don Carlo’s beautiful passage “Perduto ben, mio sol tesor”, the heart-rending plea of Don Carlo, has the beauty of pain, which finally makes Don Carlo leave the place with a painful cry and leaves a resignedly despairing Elisabeth behind.

We see an excerpt from this musically beautiful and dramatic scene in a MET production with Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni.

Io vengo a domandar grazia alla mia regina  –  Domingo / Freni



The king humiliates the queen

Synopsis: The king appears and finds the queen is unaccompanied. This is against etiquette and he sends the Queen’s companion and best friend back to France as punishment. Humiliated, Elizabeth bids farewell to the faithful and asks her not to tell of her torment.

Non pianger mia compagna  –  Caballé



Posa becomes an intimate of the King

Synopsis: When everyone has to leave the room, the king asks Posa to stay. Posa takes the opportunity to tell of the misery of the Flemish people. He accuses Philip of the reign of terror of the Spanish crown and pleads for the freedom of the Flemish people. But Philip dismisses this as reverie and does not want to hear of this betrayal. He warns Posa to beware of the Grand Inquisitor. The king choses the marquese as an intimate and tells him about his suspicions, that the queen is in love with his son. He asks Posa to find out whether his suspicions are well-founded.

The king is impressed by the Maltese knight Posa. The king is used to submissive courtiers confronting him and he recognizes the greatness of the well-travelled and wise nobleman. Posa confidently confronts the king, on whose words “there is peace in his kingdom”, Posa responds “yes, the peace of the churchyard”. The Marquese’s openness creates trust between the two and the King opens himself to him. Posa senses the loneliness of the old man who is powerful but deeply unhappy and feels pity.

Oso lo sguardo tuo penetrar  –  Raimondi / Milnes








Synopsis: It’s midnight. Don Carlos is in the gardens of the Queen. He has received a letter for a meeting and awaits the Queen. In fact, the letter was written by the princess of Eboli, who appears in the Queen’s cloak. Carlos swears his love to her. Horrified, Eboli must realise that the love is not for her when Carlos recognises her.

A mezzanotte al giardin della Regina  –  Pavarotti / d’Intino



Synopsis: Posa appears and recognizes the delicacy of the situation. He pulls out his dagger to silence the princess so as not to endanger the queen. At Carlos’ insistence, he changes his plan and lets her go despite her threats. He asks Carlos to hand over all compromising letters to him, as he now has to expect surveillance. Don Carlos hesitates, but Posa invokes their friendship and Carlos hands him the letters that betray his relationship with the Flemish Protestants.

We hear a brief and beautiful Terzetto with the cast of the Giulini recording.

Al mio furor sfuggite invano  –  Domingo / Milnes / Verrett


The mass scene of the Autodafé

Synopsis: In front of a cathedral in Valladolid. A large crowd awaits the burning of heretics in the presence of the king. A procession starts the solemn auto-da-fé.

To keep the suspension high over 5 acts, Verdi needed big scenes. So he instructed his librettists to create big scenes which should complement Schiller’s drama. This Autodafe scene was one of them. Musically, Verdi underscores the contrast of solemnity and terror with a change from the major of the people to the minor of the monks – we are back in the chiaroscuro world of the church. The desolate monotony is followed by the beautiful painful singing of the cello group, which accompanies the monks begging for forgiveness.

Spuntato ecco il dí d’esultanza  –  Levine


Synopsis: Flanders’ deputies interrupt the celebrations, appear before the king and ask for a mitigation of the cruel persecution in their home country. But Philip knows no mercy and has them removed.

Verdi creates a monumental polyphonic sound image. On one side the king and the monks and on the other side Posa, Elisabeth and Don Carlo asking for pity for the men from Flanders.

Sire, no, l’ora extrema  –  Solti



Don Carlo rebels against his father

Synopsis: Blinded with rage, Don Carlos draws his sword against his father. Despite the King’s orders, his guards dare not disarm Don Carlos. Philip asks Posa to take the sword from Don Carlos. At Posa’s request, Don Carlos hands over his sword to him, overwhelmed by the pain. The king appoints the marquis as duke and Don Carlos is taken away.

Quietly, like a distant memory, the friendship motif of the two sounds, while the pyres are burning in the background. Verdi closes the fourth act with this grandiose picture.

Sire! Egli è tempo ch’io viva  –  Domingo









One of the great strengths of this opera is that it is an opera of individuals. Each of the six main characters receives a convincing dramatic foundation and development, and each also receives musical highlights. The tragic challenge is that for logistical and financial reasons it has become almost impossible for the theatres to put together the top-class ensembles and necessary stage sets for Don Carlos, so that Don Carlos is not often seen (which is also true for some other grand operas such as “les huguenots”).



The Solitude of the King – «ella giammai m’amò»

Synopsis: In the king’s study. The morning begins to dawn and the King is sitting desperately at his table. Concern for his kingdom and the realization that Elizabeth never loved him grieve him too deeply.

The main character of this aria by Philipp is deeply melancholic. It begins with an orchestral introduction. A solo cello sounds lonely and desolate, reflecting the emotional state of the ruler. Sighing motives from the violins complete the picture and intensify the pain. Above the tremoloing strings, we hear Philip’s lament, which begins with the dramatic “she never loved me!” played around and accompanied by the solo cello. This piece of music is one of the most beautiful arias for bass voice in the entire operatic repertoire. “It is one of those iconic moments when a restrained orchestral accompaniment, a simple declamation and a single melodic outburst manage to carve emotion into our souls” (Abbate/Parker, “History of Opera”).

Boris Christoff was the preferred Philip of the 50s. His bass is noble and soft, but has dramatic qualities. His acting was outstanding, his role portrait of Philipp II grandiose. We hear and see the Bulgarian in a remarkable recording.

Ella giammai m’amò  –  Christoff



The Tinta musicale of the opera “Don Carlo”

We mentioned in a previous section that the melancholy mood of the music forms part of the tinta musicale of the opera. Also part of the Tinta are the many mass scenes that make Don Carlo an exceptional work in Verdi’s oeuvre. The third element is darkness. Verdi realizes this with the choice of voices. Besides the baritone Posa , 3 basses (Philip, the Grand Inquisitor and the monk) sing solo roles. In the following scene this darkness is particularly obvious.



Two power systems clash – The Titan battle

Synopsis:  The king has sent for the Grand Inquisitor. He has come to the realization that his traitorous son must be executed and wants to know if the church will give its blessing. The Grand Inquisitor agrees.

The ingenious musical motif of the opening, which accompanies the entrance of the Grand Inquisitor, is morbid and demonstrates his intransigence. Verdi paints the picture of an aged and cruel inquisitor. Verdi’s path to musical drama can be read well in this scene. He no longer composes a classical duet in which the protagonists describe their feelings, but he sets to music a dramatic dialogue in which the plot dramatically continues. This scene exemplifies the many dramatic dialogues in this opera. Both voices are accompanied by heavy winds to give weight to their arguments. Finally, Philip’s speech is accompanied only by pitiful woodwinds; the music speaks who has emerged victorious from the duel.

We hear the duet in the interpretation of Boris Christoff and Giulio Neri from 1954, a duet of two singer-actors whose voices make the confrontation palpable with the utmost vehemence.

Il grande Inquisitor!!



Synopsis: The Grand Inquisitor now addresses the King. He demands that the king hand over the more dangerous traitor, the Marquis of Posa, to the tribunal. The king refuses, and the inquisitor threatens the king that he too is accountable to the Inquisition. So even the king must realize that he must bow to the power of the church.

Nell’ispano suol mai l’eresia dominò  –  Foiani



Philip confronts his wife with evidence

Synopsis: After the departure of the priest, Elisabeth rushes into the study. Her jewelry box was stolen. Horrified, she has to watch as the king puts the box on the table and breaks it open. Right on top he finds the portrait of the infante. Elizabeth claims to be pure. When Philip accuses her of adultery, Elizabeth faints and Philip realises that he has gone too far. Rodrigo and Eboli rush in and realise the situation in horror.

Verdi composed a beautiful, lyrical quartet for this scene.

Ah! Sii maledetto, sospetto fatale  –  Raimondi / Verrett / Caballé / Milnes



Eboli repents – “O don fatale”

Synopsis: Eboli repentantly confessed to the queen that it was she who had betrayed her and handed the box over to the king. She also confesses that she seduced the king. The queen gives her the choice between monastery and exile. Eboli deeply regrets and as a last act she decides to save Don Carlo.

Her role is very diverse and none of the other characters in this opera shows so many facets and development. In her three great performances she first sings the courtly lady (the Moorish song) with coloraturas, then she becomes the dramatic intriguer (A mezzanotte) and in this aria she becomes the repentant and finally the light figure. In other words, the role of Eboli calls for a great voice. The first part is accompanied by dramatic, agitated string chords which accompany the voice in C flat with the painful cry “ah!” The middle section is dominated by a pleading, almost sweet cantilena whose climax is once again an even more painful “ah!”, this time on the high B flat.

The musical highlight of the Eboli is undoubtedly this aria.

We hear 3 different interpretations of this great aria.

We first hear Maria Callas. Maybe this aria has been sung more lyrical, but none of them managed to create the timbres to draw the soul state of the Eboli.

O don fatale (1)  –  Callas


The counterpart to Callas was Verretts interpretation. Her voice is rounder and fuller compared to Callas’ accentuated interpretation.

O don fatale (2) –  Verrett


Next we will hear the Eboli of Elina Garanca. In the words of Mark Pullinger: “Elīna Garanča, as the glamorous Eboli, brought the house down, pulling out all the stops in the Moorish veil song, as one would expect from someone with her bel canto background. It surprised how much her mezzo-soprano had grown, delivering a breathtaking “O don fatal”.

O don fatale  (3)  –  Garanca



Posa’s death

Synopsis: In Don Carlos’ prison cell. Posa visits him and reports that he has charged himself with the compromising letters and will soon be executed, so that the way is clear for Don Carlo to complete the liberation of Flanders.

The bon mot that “Verdi never lets any of his beloved characters die without a beautiful swan song” is also true for this “beautiful” operatic death. The orchestral accompaniment is ethereal with harp sounds and piccolo trills, and the friendship theme resounds once again blissfully in the flutes.

Posa was an ideal role for Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s voice. The Marquis de Posa is one of the most lyrical roles in the repertoire for Verdi baritones. Hvorostovsky’s much praised legato comes to life in this lyrical, restful passage. We are listening to a recording from the Russian’s early singing years.

Per me giunto il di fatale  –  Hvorostovsky


Synopsis: A shot sounds and hits Posa. He sinks to the ground. With his last ounce of strength he tells Carlo that Elisabeth is expecting him at the convent of San Giusto. He says goodbye to his friend and dies.

The bon mot “that Verdi does not let any of his beloved characters die without a beautiful swan song” is also true for this “beautiful” opera Death.

Carlo, ascolta (1)  –  Hvorostovsky


We hear a second recording from Ludovic Tézier, one of the great Verdi baritones of the 21st century. His baritone is velvety and full-bodied and fits wonderfully to this role. For once, the baritone is not the spoilsport, but the most radiant of all characters on stage.

Carlo, ascolta / Oui, Carlos (2)  –  Tézier



The liberation of Don Carlos

Synopsis: Philip appears to return the sword to his son, whose innocence appears to have been proven by the self-incrimination of Posa. But Carlo rejects him and Philipp realises that Posa has sacrificed himself. The angry people appear under Eboli’s leadership and want to free Don Carlos. As the Grand Inquisitor appears, the people throw themselves on their knees. In the turmoil, Don Carlo can flee.








The great aria of Elisabeth – the renouncement «Francia nobile suol»

Synopsis: In the monastery of San Giusto. Elizabeth wants to say goodbye to Don Carlo. She kneels in front of the tomb of Charles V. In her deathly longing she thinks back wistfully to her happy youth in France.

This final performance by Elisabeth is extremely demanding, as she must keep up the feelings of grandeur, suffering and longing for death with a long arc of suspense for more than 10 minutes. The aria begins after a lengthy orchestral introduction in a minor mood; Elisabeth is worried about Carlo. But the raison d’état demands that she be strong and she thinks back to the few beautiful moments with Carlo and the mood changes to major with her love theme.

We hear this great performance in 2 versions. The two influential critics Kesting and Steane did not agree who sang the “final” version. The former pleaded for Callas and the latter for Caballé.

Let us first listen to the Spaniard in Giulini’s magnificent complete recording. Fischer (“great voices”) commented: “You can find everything in it that led Steane to his enthusiastic verdict: the sheer beauty of the timbre slightly eclipsed that of Callas who had left the stage and also surpassed the ever cloudy sound of Joan Sutherland. There was a melancholy clarity in this soprano, the sharply contoured light of the Spanish plateau … and to sing an evenly flooded piano, transforming it into a diminuendo and then letting it die in a morendo at the end.”

Tu che la vanità … Francia nobile suol (1)  –  Caballé


Maria Callas never sang the Elisabetta in a complete recording. This is a pity in view of the recital recording from 1958 with the conductor and friend of her later years, Nicolo Resigno. She deserves the highest praise for the way she transports the Queen’s emotional drama. It is not an expressive performance but an inner kaleidoscope which she presents to the listener with the great stylistic means at her disposal.

Tu che la vanità … Francia nobile suol (2)  –  Callas


Synopsis: When Don Carlo appears, he swears to continue the work of Posa and says goodbye to Elisabeth.

Elisabeth’s duet is no longer filled with love, but with painful, nostalgic resignation. Tenderly the two say goodbye forever and for the last time their voices unite.

A beautiful farewell mood lies over the recording of this scene,  and a melancholic tenderness lies in the voices, as we perhaps can not hear it elsewhere. The combination of the voices is beguiling, one only hears the passage at 3:18 with the velvety soft voice of Domingo accompanied by the ethereal piano of Montserrat Caballé. The lyrical beauty catches the listener.

Ma lassù ci vedremo in un mondo migliore  –  Caballé / Domingo / Verrett



The dramatic ending and Caballé shocks the audience…

Synopsis: Philip appears accompanied by the Grand Inquisitor. They want to bring Elisabeth and Don Carlos to justice. Then the tomb of Charles V opens and a monk appears. Under the king’s horrified gaze he drags Don Carlos into the monastery.

Concluding the opera we hear the dramatic finale with fencing noise and a 16 second high Bb sung by Montserrat Caballé. This ending was a speciality of the Caballé. She even sang this end of the act with a final note of 20 bars once when she had to play the role in the Arena di Verona on crutches, due to an accident she had suffered in NY shortly before.

Si per sempre  –  Caballé et al.


3 Fun Facts about this opera


Recording recommendation of the opera DON CARLO


EMI, Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo, Shirley Verrett, Sherill Milnes  and Ruggiero Raimondi under the direction of Carlo Maria Giulini and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Convent Garden and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus.




Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on DON CARLO by Giuseppe Verdi.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *