Giuseppi Verdi's "Don Carlo" was a Behemoth, a lumbering monster. It featured variant openings, duets and trios and choruses to burn, ballet music that now only exists as a separate concert work, and most importantly, a great psychological/musical narrative frame -- the reason for all the elaboration and development.
What most of us know begins in a tomb in Spain and builds out an old and new subtext of European history, the battle of reactionary politics and the spirit of the Reformation. This background weaves this ideological struggle into a love story of great power.
Lasting works that are so much a part of our lives and the general culture have often had the most improbable origins; it is one of music's greatest ironies.
The arduous birth of Wagner’s "The Ring" is the stuff of legends, and decades of work, sacrifice and immense debt. Berlioz' "Les Troyens" was a desperate, singular throw of the dice urged on by his correspondence with Liszt's mistress and his lifelong love of Virgil. But what about Verdi’s overwhelmingly popular "Rigoletto"? What happened there?
One of opera's most comical and telling facts was that Giuseppe Verdi was poised at the height of his middle period -- between "Rigoletto" and "La Traviata" -- to first tackle nothing less than "King Lear," until finally deciding on "Il Trovatore" (The Troubadour).
There are so many genres of opera. There are the exquisite chamber operas that are close to plays like Strauss’ "Capriccio" of Gluck’s chamber operas. There are the operas of morality or ideology like Beethoven’s "Fidelio" or Mozart’s "Idomeneo." Some works highlight verismos raw emotions and atonal expressionism, decadent excesses like Berg’s "Lulu" or the opera of scandal, like "Salome" and the late romantic opera as epic poetry, "The Ring." The list goes on and on.
Few, if any, operas can bear comparison with the gestation, preparation and final execution of Giuseppe Verdi’s "Un Ballo in Maschera." It is the work that definitively closes his middle period; preceded by "Traviata,""Rigoletto," and "Il Trovatore" and followed by his supreme masterworks "Don Carlo," "Aida," "Otello" and "Falstaff."
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.