Thursday, December 7, 2023

Unveiling History: The True Story of Don Carlo

4:27 PM | ,

Portrait of Prince Don Charles of Habsburg (1564) flanked by the Habsburg coat of arms.
As the curtains go up tonight at Teatro alla Scala in Milan the audience will be transported into Giuseppe Verdi's opera, 'Don Carlo.' However beyond the captivating stage designs and exceptional singing lies a tragic tale based on a real life individual. This piece, meticulously researched and presented by the team at delves beneath the layers of romance and drama to unveil the story of Don Carlo, the central character in this renowned opera.

The Tragic Life of Don Carlo; A Historical Protagonist

With neither looks nor an honorable demeanor Don Carlos (1545 1568) was cloaked in a romantic aura stemming from his own personal misfortunes. On July 24th, 1568 this Prince of Asturias met his end in a tower within Madrids fortress known as Real Alcázar. Thus concluded a life burdened by afflictions. It wasn't until centuries later that Giuseppe Verdi revived the dignity of this ill favored and ill tempered prince through his opera—a testament to his status, as a romantic hero.

Unfortunate Beginnings: The Birth of Don Carlos

Born as the eldest son to King Philip II of Spain, Don Carlo's life began under unfortunate circumstances. His mother, Princess Maria Emanuela, Infanta of Portugal, and also the King's first cousin, died four days post his birth on July 8, 1545. His birth was a result of a genetically unhappy union, so close that it was akin to a brother-sister relation, resulting in severe health issues for Don Carlo. His difficult birth left him with hemiparesis, which would affect his mobility and speech for life.

A Troubled Childhood and Adult Life

Plagued by severe fevers from a young age, Don Carlo's physical health was further compromised. He was hunchbacked, stuttering, with intelligence that did not match his age. His erratic mood swings and violent outbursts created scandals at court. His reckless spending habits, coupled with an insatiable appetite for luxury, led to substantial debts. A clandestine encounter with a young woman resulted in a severe head injury at 17, making him even more violent and mentally unstable.

The Downfall of a Prince

On January 18, 1568, the king ordered his imprisonment. From there, Don Carlo's fate was sealed. He allowed himself to die at the tender age of 23 in prison. Contrary to Verdi's portrayal in his opera, it wasn't Philip II who had his son murdered but the prince's own actions that led to his downfall.

The Legacy of Don Carlo's Life

The tragic life of this prince has inspired numerous operas. Vittorio Alfieri's 'Filippo,' Friedrich Schiller's 'Don Carlos, Infant of Spain,' and Giuseppe Verdi's 'Don Carlo' are all examples of this. As Verdi's masterpiece takes the stage at Teatro alla Scala tonight, it is important we remember the true story behind the dramatic portrayal.

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