There are essentially two versions of Don Carlo for Giuseppe Verdi. I don't mean that one is in French and the other Italian. Historians and musicologist are manic about the fact that this is untrue; however, there is a work, Don Carlos (francophone's are insistent on this), originally written in French for the Paris Opera that was so vast (5 hrs and change, they say), and it's richness so prodigal, that it obscured the works greatness. It was then" translated into Italian" and cut to various shapes and sizes, depending on opera house, singers available and appreciation of or boredom with ballet.
It was a Behemoth, a lumbering monster. Variant openings, duets and trios and choruses to burn, ballet music that was insisted on at the time and now only exists largely as a separate concert work, and most importantly, a great psychological/ musical narrative frame, the reason for all this elaboration and development. History was written very large indeed, and turned into gorgeous music. A combination of Schiller's stage drama and European history in the Spanish Golden Age.
What most of us know runs between two and a half to three hours, does not have a ballet, does not start in a forest in France but a tomb in Spain. In the background to all this is a subtext at once old and new of European history, the battle of reactionary politics and the spirit of the Reformation, this background then weaves this ideological struggle into a love story of great power and the reason for the courageousness of the speeches of Posa and Carlo/Carlos.
In all the combinations that followed (between 1867 and 1884), in whatever language, what remained - and the reason for the opera's growing fame, long or short - was that the passion and power of the essential human drama shone through. Hypocrisy, jealousy, reaction and revolutions of thought, the inevitable wars of generations, court intrigue, threats of murder and blackmail, the human condition and music of breathtaking scale and inspiration. It is the longest and most ambitious music that Verdi would ever write.
Join us this Saturday for Saturday Afternoon at the Opera's presentation of a new and very special interpretation of Don Carlo, this Saturday at noon on KPAC and KTXI.