Opera Australia Blog

Who’s who in Don Carlos: A Character Guide

It’s like Game of Thrones in the Spanish Court – a complex web of power, sex, religion and politics. Meet the characters of Verdi’s Don Carlo.

Let’s start with King Philip II.

Giacomo Prestia as King Philip in Opera Australia's 'Don Carlos'. Photo: Jeff Busby

Giacomo Prestia as King Philip in Opera Australia’s ‘Don Carlos’. Photo: Jeff Busby

Old, unhappy, and plagued by doubt in his new wife and his adult son, Philip is a tortured soul.

“She never loved me!
… I still recall how sad she looked when she saw my white hair
… no, she does not love me …
The day has begun! I see my days slowly draw out …”

Rich and royal, the King is nevertheless powerless against the Grand Inquisitor, the most powerful man in Spain. In a brilliant duet between the two basses, the King declares with desperate, frustrated anger – “The pride of the King withers before the pride of the priest!

 

Enter Don Carlos, son of the King.

Diego Torre in the title role of Opera Australia's 'Don Carlos'. Photo: Jeff Busby

Diego Torre in the title role of Opera Australia’s ‘Don Carlos’. Photo: Jeff Busby

Unhappy, intense, perhaps haunted by his grandfather King Carlos V, this is a Prince on the edge of madness. Once engaged and in love with the beautiful Elisabeth, he lost her when she agreed to marry his father, The King, for the sake of peace in Europe.

Don Carlos is full of anguish over the loss of Elisabeth, full of rash passions, desperate to take up a cause and punish his father.

“I lost her!
O great God! Another man …
and he’s my father … another man …
and he’s the King,
he has taken away from me my beloved,
my fiancée!”

 

Elisabeth de Valois

Victoria Yastrebova as Elisabeth de Valois in Opera Australia's 'Don Carlos'.  Photo: Jeff Busby

Victoria Yastrebova as Elisabeth de Valois in Opera Australia’s ‘Don Carlos’. Photo: Jeff Busby

A French Princess, who gives up her betrothal to Don Carlos when his father, the King asks for her hand. She yearns for the Prince but chooses duty.

“Carlos, do not accuse me of indifference of heart.
Understand better my pride … my silence.
The sacred flame of duty has shone before my eyes,
and I proceed under its guidance,
putting my hope in heaven!”

 

Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa

Jose Carbo as Rodrigo with Diego Torre in the title role of Opera Australia's 'Don Carlos'. Photo: Jeff Busby

Jose Carbo as Rodrigo with Diego Torre in the title role of Opera Australia’s ‘Don Carlos’. Photo: Jeff Busby

A political hero, a great friend, a good man – he risks his own life to take the cause of an oppressed people to the King, and is prepared to sacrifice all for his friend, Don Carlos.

“Lend your aid to the oppressed Flanders!
In mourning and fear a whole people kneels,
a race of martyrs raises its arms,
the people raises its arms to us!
But what do I see! Such mortal pallor!
A sorrowful light shines in your eyes;
you are silent! You sigh! Tears!
My Carlos, let me partake of your sorrows!”

 

The Grand Inquisitor

Daniel Sumegi as the Grand Inquisitor with Giacomo Prestia as King Philip II in Opera Australia's 'Don Carlos'. Photo: Jeff Busby

Daniel Sumegi as the Grand Inquisitor with Giacomo Prestia as King Philip II in Opera Australia’s ‘Don Carlos’. Photo: Jeff Busby

Aged, blind, feared throughout the land, this man holds all the power in Spain. He avenges all insults to God – real and imagined – with callous cruelty. He cannot be moved to compassion.

“O sacrilegious people,
prostrate yourselves before him whom God protects!
To your knees! To your knees!”

 

Princess Eboli

Milijana Nikolic as Princess Eboli in Opera Australia's 'Don Carlos'. Photo: Jeff Busby

Milijana Nikolic as Princess Eboli in Opera Australia’s ‘Don Carlos’. Photo: Jeff Busby

An aristocrat in the Spanish court, she plays mistress to the King while nursing a deep love for Don Carlos.

“Amid the soft veils of the shadows
I shall intoxicate Carlos with love –
Carlos, the prince with a heavy heart!”

It’s a love that leads her to betray her Queen, an act that will seal Don Carlos’ fate, an act she will come to bitterly regret.

“My crime is so horrible
that it will never fade!
I curse you, I curse you, o beauty,
O my Queen, I sacrificed you
to the crazed passion of my heart.”

3 Responses to “Who’s who in Don Carlos: A Character Guide”

  1. Peter

    Just a comment that Velazquez is associated with court of Phillip IV, grandson of Phillip II. Indeed he was born the year after Phillip II died and Don Carlos was long dead by 1598. Las Meninas with the pannier skirts was painted in 1656. Not that we should expect history and opera to tell the same story. Cheers

    Reply

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