Don Carlo is one of my favorite Verdi operas not only for its gorgeous, dramatically compelling music but also for the life it breathes into historical personages whose actions shaped the politics of their day. Epic in scope yet emotionally intimate, this five-act opera based on Schiller’s celebrated play traces the downward spiral of an ill-starred love against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. Never mind that Verdi’s librettists (and Schiller, of course) bowdlerized history for the sake of drama; what they came up with is a far nobler, juicier, and more compassionate account of a royal scandal that pitted father against son, husband against wife, and the masses against the authorities of church and state. What could easily have been grandiloquently confrontational–as other operatic treatments of the subject had been–was transformed in Verdi’s seasoned hands into a series of vivid, penetrating character studies of King Philip II, his son Don Carlo, and their beloved Elisabeth of Valois (first betrothed to the son, then married to the father). The first scene in the third act contains some of the most eloquent and moving music Verdi ever wrote, starting with Philip’s gloomy meditation on his queen’s coldness and his own loneliness, continuing with a great quartet of conflicting motives, and culminating with a blazing aria from Princess Eboli, Elisabeth’s confidante who secretly desires Carlo. For this revival of its sumptuously costumed 1989 production–which is actually the four-act Italian revision of the work originally commissioned by the Paris Opera in 1867–Lyric Opera has assembled an impressive, mostly American cast headed by the crowd-pleasing veteran Samuel Ramey (as Philip), Indiana-born Michael Sylvester (in the title role), Carol Vaness (Elisabeth), and Dolora Zajick (Eboli). Sonja Frisell is the stage director; the Milanese maestro Daniele Gatti conducts. Saturday, 7 PM, and Wednesday and next Saturday, September 28, 8 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 332-2244.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Samuel Ramey photo by Tony Romano.