Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Classics: In "Don Carlos," can Posa talk King Phillip out of his proto-Cheneyite concept of bringing about peace?


At the Met in 1980, Sherrill Milnes is the Marquis of Posa and Paul Plishka, King Phillip II. The poster has included as much of the scene as he could squeeze into a YouTube clip, starting later than we're going to, but continuing to the end of the scene, including the section we're not going to be considering.

by Ken

As I explained in last night's preview, this all started last Sunday, when I had occasion to call maestro Verdi to the witness stand to give us his take on the ruthlessly unbridled butchery and destruction by which Spain's Catholic king Phillip II, in the name of the Holy Church, attempted to obliterate the Protestant uprising in the Netherlands.

We heard just a tiny bit of the scene between Phillip and the most trusted of the Spanish nobles, the Marquis of Posa, in which Posa -- a fervent champion of liberation for Flanders -- attempts to bring the king back to the path of sanity and humanity. Today we're going to hear the full scene, or rather most of the Phillip-Posa scene, the part that concerns the political issues. (Phillip opportunely changes the subject, revealing to Posa his insane jealousy regarding his beautiful wife Elisabeth, the daughter of the French king, who had been intensely pressured to marry the Spanish crown prince, or Infante," Carlos as part of a negotiated end to the Hundred Years War, only to wind up being coupled instead with the king himself. As a matter of fact, in Act I, still in France, Elisabeth had fallen hopelessly in love with a disguised member of Carlos's party who turned out to be Carlos himself. However, as much as Elisabeth and Carlos might wish the situation were otherwise, they haven't done anything.)

In an opera that caused Verdi more difficulty than any of his others, this scene gave him particular fits. He substantially rewrote it not once, but twice, but in the end did he ever get it right. It is, among other things, as I wrote last week, "a scene that for many of us was practically an anthem during the Vietnam conflict, when it seemed that President Johnson was trying to bring just such a 'peace' to that tormented country." Alas, it has become if anything more timely, in a world that we might describe as having been Cheneyfied.

You'll be happy to hear that I'm not going to talk much, not try to analyze or do much explaining. All we're going to break the scene down just a bit, and then put it back together.


Simon Keenlyside as Posa and Ferruccio Furlanetto
as Phillip, at the Met

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