Tenor Joshua Guerrero and soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen are star-crossed lovers Carlos and Elisabeth in Verdi’s “Don Carlos” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photos)
Review: “Don Carlos” by Giuseppe Verdi, Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, at Lyric Opera of Chicago through Nov. 25. ★★★★
By Nancy Malitz
Opera and theater lovers who know Verdi hits such as “Rigoletto,” “Il trovatore,” and “La traviata” are often surprised to learn how he sometimes made changes for years after their premieres. Not only to adjust for the limitations of a country’s customs, or a singer’s particular gifts, or the censor of the day. But also, occasionally, to pursue something fundamental, perhaps yet unrealized by the composer himself, just waiting to be brought into focus.
Verdi’s “Don Carlos” seems like such a work. Now playing at Lyric Opera of Chicago, it first showed up in 1867 – in Paris and in French as “Don Carlos,” and then in London in Italian as “Don Carlo” – both in that first year. But Verdi was hardly done refining. By the time of its final-final adjustments, for Modena in 1886, Verdi had used six writer-collaborators. He had also begun a new collaborative partnership with the brilliant composer-librettist Arrigo Boito, whose direct impact on Verdi would become apparent in “Otello” and “Falstaff,” the supreme efforts of the composer’s eighth decade. (When Verdi died in 1901, Boito was at his bedside.)
Heretics are condemned to death by fire. “Don Carlos” is set during the Spanish Inquisition.
Boito did not pen a word in “Don Carlos.” (The composer was working with librettists Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle.) But in Verdi’s most profound scenes – which capture the irreconcilable anger between King Philip and his thwarted son, and between this same King and the Church’s terrifying Grand Inquisitor, from whom not even a King dared to shrink – one senses the impact of Boito’s influence. And considering that you’ve also got star-crossed lovers in the King’s son Don Carlos and the woman who is all but ripped from Carlos’ arms to be wedded by the father instead, there’s stuff worthy of Shakespeare in the telling. Read the full story »