The opera Don Carlos (titled Don Carlo in the revised Italian version) is the first mature work of Guiseppe Verdi (1813–1901), who wrote it at the age of fifty-three. Following long years of seeking, Verdi rounded off a period in which he aimed at refined drama and ever-greater theatricality. The opera is based on Friedrich Schiller’s drama Don Carlos, Infante of Spain, set amid the turbulent events that took place in Spain in the second half of the 16th century. Schiller’s play was adapted for Verdi in the spirit of French Grand Opera by two librettists, Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, who basically retained Schiller’s conception yet added several parts, among them the introductory scene in Fontainebleau depicting the love between Carlos and the Queen at the time of their betrothal, so as to make the story more comprehensible. Verdi duly embraced the Grand Opera aesthetics (the historical theme, five-Act form, obligatory ballet scenes, the spectacular auto-da-fé chorus scene), yet it is not a grand opera as such but a new step on Verdi’s journey towards opera itself. The work is extremely dramatic, the instrumentation more ample than previously, while the orchestra plays a significant role in the dramatic expression of the action and moods of the characters. In terms of melody, Don Carlo ranks among Verdi’s most original and poignant works. To mark the 200th anniversary of the great composer’s birth, the National Theatre will be presenting the opera’s four-act Italian version in the groundbreaking conception of the stage director Manfred Schweigkofler and bearing the secondary title “Gothic Verdi”.

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