Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle
Italian translation by Achille de Lauzières and Angelo Zanardini
Première on 1st July 2000 at the Nationaltheater
Peter Heilker. Notes on Jürgen Rose's new Munich Production of Verdi's Don Carlo
A young man is hunted, hounded - by his dreams, his wishes and his longings. The only way he can break free from the confines of a solidified world structure full of unrelenting severity, intolerant religiosity and omnipresent state and church control is by creating his own reality. Figments of madness become blurred with his present situation. Nightmares distort tender desires, affixed to a once promised and then denied experience of joy. This young man, Verdi's title character, Don Carlo, is a deeply insecure individual, whom the memory of his brief period with Elisabetta in the French town of Fontainebleau will not let go, and - if he is to survive - may not let go.
In the first act, a prologue to the actual drama in the five-act version, we witness in Jürgen Rose's production how much space this fateful encounter takes up in Carlo's world. An encounter between two people, who from the first moment commit themselves unconditionally to one another only to be abruptly torn apart. Throughout the entire play the images overlap, the fragments of memories form new images, as Don Carlo seeks to come to terms with this moment that has marked his life - and he is ultimately doomed to defeat, because he is surrounded by powerful and equally obsessed characters, whose political and personal intentions frustrate his urges.
Verdi and his librettists lead us into the dark world of a historicized, yet - as in the inspiring literature of Saint-Réal and Schiller - in no way precisely historical Spain. The art treasures found during the 19th century in secularized Spanish monasteries give evidence of the bigoted and bizarre side of strict ceremonial life on the Iberian peninsula. The enraptured poses of the monks on Zurbaran's paintings attest to the monstrous power of an unconditional faith driven to the point of fanaticism. Even the political power of the Spanish king, over whose world realm the sun never set, was darkened by the predominance of the church and its insistence on total subjugation.
In the constant confrontation between dominance and predominance the fundamental father-son conflict is carried out across three generations, personalized in the three operatic figures of the already mystically transfigured Emperor Carlo V, his son King Felipe II and the Infante, Don Carlo. This way totally different designs for life and society are formulated, designs which mutually exclude the others and thus are realized by none. Carlo V withdrew in resignation after his abdication and died in monastic seclusion. His spirit warns following generations of the vanity of all earthly striving. Felipe has devoted all his strength to the retention of both political and personal power without finding a satisfying solution, and Carlo, who can barely keep himself under control and is helplessly driven back and forth between the powers, is condemned to founder in his indecisiveness. Finally the totally patriarchal "mother" church, in the person of the Grand Inquisitor and his assassins control and determine everything.
The generation of the sons - both Felipe and Carlo - seeks to come to terms, each in his own way, with the deep-seated doubt in the existing order. While Felipe seizes more and more power, Carlos repeatedly (and vainly) seeks to force an outbreak in a direct confrontation with his father. Finally the essential similarity of father and son is revealed, albeit in their common fascination for Posa, whose captivating quality releases truly incredible intimacy even on the part of the king. A shattered Felipe and Carlo (here the Munich production refers back to a section from the original Paris version of 1867) must take their leave of him when he falls victim to the will of the Inquisition.
In his previous operatic adaptations of dramas by Friedrich Schiller, Giovanna d'Arco (Die Jungfrau von Orléans), I masnadieri (Die Räuber) and Luisa Miller (Kabale und Liebe), Verdi increasingly transferred the focus from the social tableau to the individual conflict. This way he forms the iridescent figure of Posa, in the truest sense of the word, with seductive cantilena into an egocentric hero, who propagates his grand ideas less for the realization of a vision than to impress the idolized Infante Carlo. In the course of this, the peculiar eroticism on which the friendship between these two men is based moves markedly into the foreground. The struggling-enlightening impetus of Posa yields over the course of the plot to an ambitious exploitation of tactics, which founders completely as do all his attempts at rebellion. Posa imposes a far to difficult office on the unstable Carlo, finally sacrificing himself in vain. Only he who submits can survive.
Elisabetta had already decided to take this route under the pressure of raison d'état as far back as Fontainebleau. Directly after her blissful experience with Carlo she agreed to marry Felipe. In no time, the curious and hopeful young woman is transformed to a deeply disturbed, submissive consort. She exerts her every effort to make the memory of happier times in her French homeland grow pale in favor of a paradisiacal vision of the beyond after exchanging her former life for the sepulchral darkness of the Spanish court. The aging Felipe senses the irreconcilable differences with his young wife. The sorrow over her relationship to Carlo takes all the sovereignty away from the statesman and leaves an indelible imprint on his ideas concerning the danger of the younger generation.
Color, lustre and the display of splendor on Spanish soil are to remain the sole property of ecclesiastical ritual. The monstrous spectacle of the central auto da fé, the stately "act of faith" before the countenance of church and state, satisfies the voyeuristic urges for sensationalism while concurrently revealing a gruesome fundamentalism contemptuous of humanity. What toying with forbidden fruit comes about when Princess Eboli, of all people, with her Moorish song of the veil, a melody loaded with eroticism, pays homage to an alien culture driven out of Spain by fire and the sword. Verdi does not have this character spin her schemes as a cunning intriguer, but rather shows us a woman who is just as addicted to love as she is passionate. A creature this sensuous can never succeed in this dark region, she will have to conclude her days in penitence.
But as firmly fused as church and state believe their structure to be, the bones of the victims provide no secure foundation. More and more the system collapses from within, becomes permeable for a diffuse mysticism, which manifests itself in the mystery-shrouded figure of Carlo V. Like a deus ex machina the monk, in whom at the end of the drama all the characters believe to have recognized the spirit of the emperor, rescues Carlo from the shackles of the Inquisition taking him to a sphere which, beyond reality, offers space for his dream worlds. What remains behind is a horrific, no less puzzling tableau: two old men and a lonely woman condemned to continue living the madness of reality.
English translation by Donald Arthur
© Bavarian State Opera