Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don Carlo Program Notes

Program Notes
By Harvey De Roo

Many believe that Don Carlo is the best thing Verdi wrote, with the exception of his last, Shakespearian operas, Otello and Falstaff. The music is sublime, the story and its people complex and compelling. The latter is due in part to the play on which the opera is based — Don Carlos, Infantvon Spanien, by  Friedrich Schiller — in which the characters live complicated inner lives within a sprawling plot. It is also due to the kind of opera Verdi was writing at the time: grand opéra, the house style of the Paris Opera, which had commissioned the work, and where it premiered in 1867.

One aspect of this style was length, encouraging operas of four or five acts, and allowing Verdi scope for the complexity he wanted to explore in this work. An example is the first act — the so-called Fontainebleau Act — the whole of which is dedicated to Carlo and Elizabeth falling in love, only to be informed their betrothal has been short-circuited by the decision of Elizabeth’s father, Henry II, to give Elizabeth to Carlo’s father, King Philip II of Spain. We have been so caught up in the process of happy discovery between these two young people that we can feel the shock of their disappointment, their conflict of loyalties, the blight that paralyzes them for the rest of the opera.

Verdi was not used to such length, and revised the opera a number of times — never out of  dissatisfaction with the music but with the timing — so much so that there is no definitive version. All its iterations are in French and Don Carlos is very much a French opera. Today's Italian version — the ‘Milan’ version, 4 acts without the Fontainebleau scene — is a translation of revisions made to the French in 1882-84 and 1886, with the ‘s’ in “Carlos” dropped, in keeping with the Italian spelling of the name.

Because grand opéra grew out of the stirring events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, it took for its subject charged political situations, usually involving the conflict of countries or cultures. Within this structure was a more intimate story — often a cross-cultural love affair. These features show in Don Carlo

The political context is Catholic Spanish oppression of Protestant Flanders during the Spanish Inquisition. This situation and the love interest are unusual and fraught; the opera’s main conflict is between Philip II and Don Carlo. Philip is a despot who believes that repressive order is required for successful rule; his son is a libertarian. They are divided on Flanders, and so mistrustful is the father that he will allow his son no share of power. Even more Freudian is the fact that each is in love with the same woman, which makes the queen both the son’s stepmother and his lover manqué.

Clockwise from top-left: Guiseppe Verdi, Charles V, Phillip II,
Don Carlos, Elizabeth de Valois, Princess Eboli
Besides being complicated in themselves, these conflicts are entangled with secondary figures. There is  the ambivalent figure of Posa, a champion of Flanders and Carlo’s friend, yet a confidant of the king. Then there is Princess Eboli, narcissistic lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth, vying with the queen for both Philip and Don Carlo.

The opera takes as its subject the failure to find a way of being in this world. As the ghost of Charles V puts it, ‘the heart’s strife will abate only in heaven.’ The work is populated with unhappy and frustrated individuals, cheated by life’s circumstances and their own temperaments. Nor is there a main character, but rather a number of people each of whom is centre of his own strand in this multifaceted story of disappointment.

Don Carlo shows another feature of grand opéra: the admixture of intimate scenes with grand public ones, the latter employing the chorus in the magnificent way the genre demanded. There is, for example, the moving lament by Philip that his wife doesn’t love him (though she shows admirable fidelity) — one of the great bass arias of the repertoire. There is the auto-da-fé scene where the forces of oppression and those of liberty are drawn up in a grand opéra central finale. Add to this Verdi’s specialty: thrilling confrontations. In the public scene just mentioned father and son finally face off against each other, to disastrous effect. There is the private contest between the opera’s two
figures of patriarchal oppression: King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor. 

This opera has everything we love about Verdi and more besides. There is no work by him that is more searching in its exploration of the human predicament. Having been revised in 1882-84, it employs Verdi’s late style, the transcendent music the composer was writing toward the end of his life.

Harvey De Roo taught for many years in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. For eight years he taught opera history and appreciation in the SFU Seniors Program.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

20 Questions with Joni Henson

Did you know she rocks Adele's 'Someone Like You'? Here are 20 Questions featuring Joni Henson! 

Watch her perform as Elisabeth de Valois in our upcoming production of Don Carlo.

Guilty musical pleasure?

Where do you love to sing? 
I love to sing most when my Mom is accompanying me on the piano. 

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Spending time surrounded by family and friends. 

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines of fiction?
Aslan in the Narnia series. I also have a special place in my heart for the women I have played in operas; especially Senta and Desdemona. 

Who are your favourite characters in history?
Mary Magdalene, Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth I. 

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in real life?
My Dad. He showed the most amazing strength and courage as he fought and unfortunately lost his battle with cancer. 

Who is your favourite author?
Anita Shreve - she wrote one of my favourite books - Fortune's Rocks.  

Your favourite musician?
I don't think I can choose just one. 

Your favourite composer?
This is a toss up between Verdi and Wagner. 

What quality do you most admire in a person?

Your favourite virtue?
Your favourite occupation?
I guess I should say Opera Singer...even though it can be very trying at times I do love it! 

What did you want to be as a child?

Your most marked characteristic?

What do you most value in your friends?
Again, loyalty. I also value my friends’ company. 

For what would you like to be remembered?
For being joyful. 

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
I would love to be confident in my public speaking skills...a work in progress for sure. 

What is your motto?
It will all work out in the end. 

What non-opera song do you rock?
Adele's 'Someone Like You'.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Don Carlo Synopsis

A magnificent drama of a king’s brutal power and a son’s brash rebellion
In Italian with English SURTITLES™

May 3, 8, 10, 11 (matinée), 2014
Evening performances 7:30pm.

Matinée performances 2:00pm.

Tickets from $40 -  get yours here

Act I
The Cloister of the Monastery of St. Just
A mysterious monk prays for peace for the soul of Charles V, former Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles’ grandson, Don Carlo, comes in and imagines he hears the voice of his grandfather still haunting the convent.

Don Carlo sings of his love for Elisabeth de Valois, who, for political reasons, was forced to marry Carlo’s father, King Philip II of Spain. As Carlo sings, his friend Rodrigo enters. Rodrigo advises Carlo to ask for the governorship of Flanders - perhaps there he may forget Elisabeth. As the scene closes, Carlo and Rodrigo sing a duet affi rming their friendship and their determination to free Flanders.

Photo Courtesy Hawaii Opera Theater

The Garden Adjoining the Monastery
Princess Eboli, along with the page Tebaldo, leads the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting in a song about a Queen catching her King in his adulterous pursuits. Elisabeth joins them and Rodrigo enters to deliver some letters: one from Elisabeth’s father and one from Carlo. Rodrigo begs  Elisabeth to persuade Philip to send Carlo to Flanders. Eboli wrongly supposes that that Carlo may be in love with her.

Carlo appears; Elisabeth struggles to remain calm. She agrees to help persuade Philip to send Carlo to Flanders. Carlo questions her coldness towards him; Elisabeth dares him to kill Philip so he may then be free to marry her. Carlos is shocked by the idea and runs away. Philip appears and is angry to fi nd his queen left alone. He orders the lady-in-waiting who was meant to be attending her to return to France. Rodrigo is detained by the king. Seizing the opportunity, Rodrigo urges Philip to give the people of Flanders their freedom. Philip is impressed by Rodrigo’s integrity and warns him to beware of the Grand Inquisitor. He also confides that he is worried about Carlo and Elisabeth and asks Rodrigo to keep an eye on them.

Act II
The Queen’s Gardens at Night
Having received a letter to meet in the garden at midnight, Carlo approaches the woman he believes is Elisabeth. She reveals herself to be Eboli but is perplexed by Carlo’s confusion. Eboli warns Carlo that Rodrigo is now a confi dant of the king, and it slowly dawns on her that Carlo and Elisabeth are lovers. Rodrigo, who has been following Carlo, rushes in to intervene. In her jealousy, Eboli vows to take revenge by exposing the relationship.

The Square Before the Cathedral
A group of heretics is about to be burned alive as the crowd sings praises to King Philip. Carlo presents a group of deputies from Flanders and Brabant, who beg the king to show mercy. Philip refuses. Carlo demands that Philip send him to Flanders. Philip again refuses, and Carlo draws his sword. Rodrigo disarms Carlo and the king rewards him by making him a duke.

Photo Courtesy Hawaii Opera Theater


The King’s Study
King Philip sings wretchedly about how Elisabeth never loved him. The Grand Inquisitor enters and Philip seeks reassurance that he is right to have Carlo, his son, executed. The Inquisitor points out that Rodrigo presents a greater danger and demands he be executed too.

Elisabeth enters, asking about a jewelry box that has gone missing. Philip has it on his table and opens it to discover a portrait of Carlo. He denounces her as an adulteress and becomes violent. Eboli and Rodrigo enter to see what the commotion is and find Elisabeth on the ground. Eboli begs forgiveness, as it was she who stole the jewelry box and gave it to the king. Elisabeth offers Eboli a choice: exile or the convent. Eboli vows to rescue Carlo.

The Prison
Rodrigo has come to say farewell to Carlo, but is fatally shot in the cell. As he dies, he tells Carlo where Elisabeth will be the next day. Philip arrives, but word of an uprising is received. The Grand Inquisitor quells the violence and Eboli helps Carlo escape amid the confusion.

Act IV
The Monastery of St. Just
Carlo comes to bid Elisabeth farewell, for in order to honour Rodrigo’s memory he must go to Flanders to lead the people to liberty. The King and Grand Inquisitor fi nd them together and the King demands the death of both. The mysterious monk that Carlo saw earlier appears from the tomb - perhaps the ghost of Charles V himself – and drags Carlo into the tomb.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

(Throwback Thursday) Verdi's Don Carlo

Vancouver Opera last performed Don Carlo in October 1973. This current production is the first in 40 years!

Come down to the Queen Elizabeth theatre and experience the magnificence of Verdi's spectacular masterpiece with us again. Tickets start at $40! Buy tickets here.

1973 Cast Members:

Conductor... Anton Guadagno
Director... James Lucas
Elizabeth... Pauline Tinsley
Don Carlos... Robert Moulson
Phillip II... Richard Cross
Princess Eboli... Gabrielle Lavigne
Rodrigo... Cornelius Opthof
Grand Inquisitor... James Morris
Friar... Pierre Charbonneau
Theobaldo... Kathleen Murison
Celestial Voice... Ruth Huang
Count of Lerma... Don Cant
Royal Herald... Marcel Larochelle

Back Next

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Notes on Scenes Rarely Seen

Leslie Dala is VO's Associate Conductor and Chorus Director. He's also the Program Director of VO's Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program. Participants in this year's program will be performing Scenes Rarely Seen at Minoru Chapel on Wednesday April 2. Find out more about the concert here.

Here are some notes from Leslie on what you can expect to hear at that performance.

Opera scenes programs often consist of a smattering of “greatest hits” from several well-known operas from the usual suspects. For Scenes Rarely Seen, we decided to showcase lesser known works that have never been produced by Vancouver Opera but are important and unjustly neglected works of the operatic canon.

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) was one of the most prominent opera composers of his day and he was considered the greatest revolutionary of the art form in his lifetime. He made his fame and fortune in Paris and all of his works are based on classical Greek mythology including Orpheus, Alceste, and Ipighenie en Aulide (the prequel to tonight’s selected work). 

Gluck’s greatest innovations were of his use of continuous orchestral recitatives (instead of solely the keyboard as accompaniment) and his “psychological” approach to text where the singer is expressing an emotion but the orchestra is telling us another story because its music seems to be in disagreement with the text being sung. This, of course, later became the trademark of Richard Wagner particularly in his Ring Cycle. If you looked at Gluck’s birth year carefully then you will have noticed that this year we celebrate his 300th anniversary so it seemed like a good time to showcase his work.

Speaking of Wagner, Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was completely influenced by the German master in his early works but by the time he composed Savitri in 1908 we see a whole new approach to opera. Composed for an ensemble of 12 instruments and 3 principal roles, Savitri is truly the first English chamber opera of the 20th century (a form that Benjamin Britten was to develop some 40 years later). 

Holst crafted his own libretto from an episode from the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit epic poem which is ten times the length of the Odyssey and the Iliad combined. The work is an extraordinary evocation of Eastern music with its use of modes and unaccompanied singing and there is a sparseness to the writing which is quite revolutionary considering that the vogue of the time was to write for enormous orchestras (think Strauss, Mahler, Stravinsky and even Holst’s most famous work, The Planets). 

The work also features an unseen women’s chorus which Holst also used in Neptune, the final movement of The Planets to great effect which, for tonight’s performance, we will have to recreate through a more economic and technological means.

Scenes Rarely Seen will be performed at Minoru Chapel in Richmond on Wednesday, April 2 at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Tickets are $10 for adults / $18 for students and seniors, plus GST. For ticket details, click here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

YAP at Minoru

Wednesday April 2, 2014
2:00 & 7:00 p.m.
Vancouver Opera
Scenes Rarely Seen

After two sold out shows in December, Vancouver Opera returns to showcase two operas rarely seen or heard: Iphigénie en Tauride by Gluck, and Savitri, by Holst, two mythical stories connected by compelling themes of life and death.

Based on Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy, Iphigénie en Tauride tells of the Agamemnon family in the aftermath of the Trojan War. This presentation of Acts III and IV, will be an advance celebration of the 300th anniversary of Gluck’s birth.

Holst’s one-act opera, Savitri, is an evocative 30-minute piece based upon the Mahabharata theology. Savitri, wife of Satyavan, contemplates life after she is confronted by Death.

The program features Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program Artists, Sheila Christie, Kristin Hoff, Rocco Rupolo, Aaron Durand and Kimberley-Ann Bartczak, under the music direction of Leslie Dala and Kinza Tyrrell and stage direction of Fanny Gilbert-Collet.

Vancouver Opera is the second largest opera company in Canada and is regarded worldwide for its fine mainstage productions, education programs (which have reached more than 1.6 million children and their families for more than 40 years), award winning community programs and for forging groundbreaking cross-cultural creative partnerships that have brought opera to new generations of Canadians. To learn more, visit

$20 adults (+ GST)
$18 students/seniors (+ GST)
Doors open 30 mins before show.
Limited seating!
$20/$18 PURCHASE IN ADVANCE AT 604-276-4300 (PRESS 2)
QUOTE COURSE #286658 FOR 2:00 SHOW, #286659 FOR 7:00 SHOW.
Mon–Fri 8:30 a.m.–5:30 pm. Credit card only for advance sales.
OR Purchase at door (cash only, space permitting)
Sorry, no refunds.

6540 Gilbert Road,
Richmond, BC
(beside/behind the Gateway Theatre)
Pay parking available.
Minoru Chapel is a 10-minute walk from the Canada Line Richmond-Brighouse Station.