Sunday Classics preview: "Don Carlos" -- Carlos is surprised by his old friend Rodrigo
Baritone Simon Keenlyside as the Marquis of Posa and tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlos in the first monastery scene of Don Carlos at Covent Garden, 2009
The opening of the first monastery scene of Don Carlos
VERDI: Don Carlos: Act II, Scene 1, Monks, "Carlo, il sommo imperatore" . . . Don Carlos, "Al chiostro di San Giusto"
Scene: The tomb of Charles V in the monastery of San Yuste. A chorus of monks is praying in the offstage chapel. Onstage, a kneeling monk prays before the tomb.Paul Plishka (bs), A Monk; Michael Sylvester (t), Don Carlos; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, James Levine, cond. Sony, recorded Apr.-May 1992
MONKS: Charles, the supreme emperor,
is no longer more than mute dust.
At the feet of his heavenly maker
his haughty soul now trembles.
A MONK: He wanted to rule over the world,
forgetting the one who in the sky
guides the stars on their faithful path.
His pride was immense;
his error was profound.
MONKS: Charles, the supreme emperor &c.
A MONK: Great is God alone, and if he wills it
he makes heaven and earth tremble.
Ah! Merciful God,
compassionate to the sinner,
you will grant
that peace and pardon
descend on him from heaven.
MONKS: Let your wrath not fall,
not fall on his soul.
ALL: Great is God alone.
He alone is great.
[Day dawns slowly. Enter DON CARLOS, pale and agitated. The chorus of monks exits the chapel, crosses the scene, and disappears into the corridors of the cloister.]
DON CARLOS: At the monastery of San Yuste, where my grandfather
Charles V ended his life, weary of his grandeur,
I seek in vain peace and forgetfulness of the past.
Of the one who was stolen from me
the image wanders with me into this icy cloister.
MONK [rising and approaching CARLOS]: The sorrow of earth
follows us even into the cloister.
The heart's war only
in heaven will be calmed.
CARLOS: His voice! My heart trembles!
I thought -- what terror! --
I saw the emperor,
who in his habit was concealing
his breastplate and golden crown.
It's said that he still appears in the cloister!
MONK [retiring]: The heart's war
in heaven will be calmed.
DON CARLOS: O terror! O terror!
Earlier this week I felt an urgent need to hearken unto the scene from Don Carlos in which the Marquis of Posa attempts to persuade King Phillip II of Spain, the man who orchestrated the bloodbath and orgy of destruction in the Netherlands by which, in the name of the Catholic Church, he proposed to bring peace to that woebegotten land of Protestant heretics. I said at the time that we needed to take a listen to this scene, which Verdi almost entirely rewrote twice before getting it stunningly right. For tonight's preview we're going to back up and hear how Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa, is introduced to the audience in the scene at the Monastery of San Yuste (Act II, Scene 1 in the five-act version; the opening scene of the four-act reduction that Verdi reluctantly countenanced), before the tomb of the Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, where his grandson and namesake, the crown prince (Infant) Carlos, has repaired in despair.
In a March 2010 set of posts that culminated in "In Verdi's Don Carlos, all paths lead back to the tomb of Charles V," we devoted a fair amount of attention to this scene at San Yuste, starting with the physical setting, the tomb of Charles V (1500-1558), the father of King Phillip, who abdicated the throne unexpectedly in 1556, at the height of his power. (Via Verdi's first full-fledged masterpiece, Ernani, we also traced the emperor's history back to his debauched youth, and the moment when, hiding in the tomb of his ancestor Charlemagne, received news of his election as Holy Roman Emperor.)
We heard the cosmically brooding little orchestral prelude, and the brooding chorus of monks punctuated by the meditations of a particular monk who recalls the overweaning ambitions and vanity of the late emperor; and we heard the haunting little chunk of recitative in which Carlos voices the grief and despair that have brought him to the site of his grandfather's post-imperial retreat and tomb of his grandfather, for me one of the loveliest bits in this astounding opera -- unfortunately appearing only in the original five-act version. (As I suggested in the earlier post, I think it's a mark of Verdi's basic disapproval of the idea of a four-act reduction of this opera that he'd worked so hard at which allowed him to excise this extraordinary moment, in order to shoehorn a salvaged version of Carlos's Act I aria.) Then we jumped a bit and heard a bunch of high-class performances of the oath of loyalty before God to each other and to the cause of liberty sworn by Carlos and his dearest friend Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa.
All that we missed from this scene, really, is what immediately follows: the dramatic reunion of Carlos and his cherished old friend. So with that plunked in, in the click-through we'll hear the whole thing.
TO REVISIT THE MONASTERY AT SAN YUSTE, CLICK HERE