This opera about forbidden romance between Don Carlos and his stepmother, Queen Elisabetta de Valois, opened at the Paris Opera in 1871.
It is considered the most revised opera which Verdi wrote, because of length and the fact that he wanted to shorten it considerably.
Verdi made several in 1866 before he composed the ballet of the same name. The work had grown to an unmanageable length so he wanted a lot of trim. Cuts made before the premiere and the first published edition include:
- He cut out a duet between Eboli and Elisabeth in Scene 1 of Act 4.
- He cut a duet between the King and Carlos after Posa dies, in scene 2 of Act 4.
- He also cut a dialogue between Eboli and Elisabeth during the insurrection depicted in the same scene.
During rehearsals of the ballet in 1867, the main reason for a lot of the cuts was because they found that the opera would run until midnight when performed. Patrons had to leave before then in order to catch the last trains to the Paris suburbs. The composer made further cuts because he didn’t want to lose patrons.
- He took out the intro to Act 1 which was the woodcutters chorus (and up until the first stage appearance by Elisabeth).
- He cut an entry solo by Posa in scene 1 of Act 2.
- He also cut some of the dialogue between Posa and the king during scene 2 at the end of Act 2.
When the opera was first published, it included his original concept, the ballet, and was minus all of the cuts above.
Act 1 (omitted in a 1883 revision)
Setting: Forest of Fontainebleau in France, Winter
A chorus of woodcutters and their wives complain of a hard life, worsened by a war with Spain. The king of France’s daughter, Elisabeth, enters with her servants. She tells everyone that when she marries Don Carlos, it will end the war because he’s the king of Spain’s son. They leave.
Act 2 (this is Act 1 in the 1883 version)
Scene 1: A monastery in Spain
Emperor Charles V is having his soul prayed for by monks . The King’s grandson, Don Carlos, enters. He’s anguished because his love is now married to his father.
Act 3 (this is Act 2 in 1883’s revision)
Scene 1: Nighttime in the Queen’s garden, which is in Madrid
Because Elisabeth is tired, she wants to only concentrate on the next day’s coronation of the king. She doesn’t want to go to a planned party so changes masks with Eboli and thinks this will cover up her absence. She leaves.
Act 4 (This was Act 3 for the 1883 revised version)
Scene 1: King Philip’s study, dawn – Madrid
In a reverie and alone, the king is sad about the fact that Elisabeth has never loved him, and that because of his position he always has to keep an eye on everything, and that he’ll never get enough sleep until he’s dead and buried in his tomb located in Escorial. He sings “Elle ne m’aime pas”. The Grand Inquisitor, who’s blind, is announced.
The King wonders if the church will mind if he executes his own son, and the inquisitor tells him that others have done it so he’ll be in good company. He reminds the king that even God sacrificed his own son. Because of this blessing to kill his own son, the inquisitor wants the king to have Posa gotten rid of.
The king can’t kill his friend, even though he can kill his own son, because he likes and admires Posa. The Grand Inquisitor tells the king that the inquisition can and has destroyed kings before.
Act 5 (this was Act 4 for the 1883 revision)
The moonlit monastery in Yuste
Elisabeth is at the site of Charles V’s tomb, kneeling on the ground before it. She wants to help Don Carlos fulfill his destiny when he goes to Flanders, but she wants only death for herself. She sings “Toi qui sus le neant”. When Carlos appears, they say goodbye for the last time. They do make a promise to see each other in heaven. They sing “Au revoir dans un monde ou la vie est meilleure”.