Stage Director, Set Designer and Lighting Designer
Marco Arturo Marelli
Deutsche Oper Berlín
Cor de la Generalitat
Francesc Perales, chorus master
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
Elisabetta di Valois
María José Siri
Il Grande Inquisitore
Voce dal cielo
Cloister of the Yuste monastery. In the chapel a group of monks is praying for the eternal rest of Charles V. Outside, prostrate before the emperor’s tomb, one monk offers his own particular prayer. The sun is about to come up and Don Carlos, Prince of Spain, wanders through the cloisters while he listens from afar to the psalms being chanted by the monks. He pauses to reflect and remembers with nostalgia the day in Fontainbleau when he first met and fell hopelessly in love with Isabel of Valois. They were to be married, but were forced to break their engagement when the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, which ended the hostilities between France and Spain, was sealed by the marriage of Isabel of Valois, the daughter of King Henry II of France, to King Philip II of Spain. Don Carlos, however, is still madly in love with Isabel, who is now his stepmother, and blames his father, King Philip II, for breaking his heart. As the prince is pondering all this, a mysterious monk comes near to console him, but quickly disappears again as the monastery bells start to peal. The prince is paralyzed with fear, for he believes that he has just seen the ghost of Charles V. At that moment, Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa and a great friend of the prince, appears. As they converse, Don Carlos confesses that he is still in love with Isabel of Valois. Rodrigo tells him that he understands and advises the prince to go to Flanders, for only there, amidst his subjects, will he learn to be a true king; only there will he be able to forget the impossible love which torments him. The king and queen, accompanied by their entourage, cross the cloister and stop for a moment in front of Charles V’s tomb. The eyes of Isabel of Valois and Don Carlos meet for a moment and both are overcome with emotion. The king and queen then go inside the chapel, leaving Rodrigo to comfort the prince. The two friends swear eternal loyalty and friendship.
Near the cloister, the queen’s ladies in waiting, several pages, and the Princess of Éboli all await the arrival of the queen while singing a joyous song. Isabel of Valois comes out of the cloister with a look of sadness on her face. Rodrigo appears at that moment and, under the pretext of delivering to the queen a letter from her mother, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, he discreetly takes advantage of the opportunity to include a note from Don Carlos with the letter. Trembling with fear, Isabel of Valois reads the note while Rodrigo talks to the Princess of Éboli. The Marquis of Posa then asks the queen for a private audience with the prince and she accepts even though her respect for the king makes her doubt the propriety of such a meeting. Still, when Don Carlos arrives, the queen’s entourage gradually dwindles until the two are alone. The prince begs the queen to intercede on his behalf and ask the king’s permission to go to Flanders, but the conversation eventually turns into a passionate declaration of Don Carlos’ love for the queen. Isabel’s demeanor of firm coolness in the face of the prince’s uncontrollable passion causes him to flee in horror.
Philip II emerges from the cloister of the monastery. Upon finding the queen alone, the king orders the expulsion of the Countess of Aremberg from Spain for breaking the royal decree stipulating that the queen must be accompanied at all times. Isabel of Valois comforts her and, after that, all the characters leave the scene except for the king and the Marquis of Posa. The monarch thanks Rodrigo for his loyalty and opens his heart to him. This act of confidence provides the Marquis with the opportunity to comment on the delicate political situation in Flanders, but Philip II scoffs at what he considers unattainable ideals and tells him that what really worries him is the possibility of a relationship between the queen and Don Carlos. The king asks Rodrigo to keep an eye on both of them and warns him to be careful of the Grand Inquisitor.
An isolated spot in the queen’s gardens. It is nighttime and the prince waits to keep an appointment that has been made by means of a note that he suspects is from Isabel of Valois. Wearing the queen’s jewels and mask, the Princess of Éboli enters (Isabel of Valois had been hosting a ball in the royal gardens, but, feeling tired, she decided to retire early. Before going to her chambers, she lent the Princess of Éboli part of her costume so that the princess could take her place as hostess without the guests noticing the queen’s absence).
Don Carlos passionately declares his love to the lady. The Princess of Éboli receives this declaration with self-satisfied smugness as she is secretly in love with the prince; indeed, it was she who wrote the note to arrange the meeting. However, when she removes the mask Don Carlos feels tricked and deceived and rejects her. Now she is aware of his secret and swears vengeance. At that moment, Rodrigo arrives and tries to calm the disgusted Princess of Éboli, but she leaves abruptly and vows to tell the king everything. After she’s gone, Rodrigo begs Don Carlos to give him all the compromising notes and documents in his possession.
A large square in front of the Church of Our Lady of Atocha. The crowd begins to enter the square, ready to witness an Auto de Fe after the King’s crowning. Philip II comes out of the church and is greeted by his subjects, who bow before him. Don Carlos calls forward six Flemish deputies who beg the king to end the bloodshed in Flanders, but Philip II ignores their supplications and the angry prince unsheathes his sword, declaring himself the liberator of the territories oppressed by Spain. Philip II orders his men to disarm the prince and, to the astonishment of all those present, it is the Marquis of Posa who carries out the order. After the arrest of Don Carlos, the Auto de Fe begins. While the bonfires catch fire, a heavenly voice welcomes the souls of the damned.
Philip II’s office in the palace. Dawn. The monarch is reflecting upon his life, grieved by the fact that the balance is so sorrowful and desolate: his queen does not love him and his son has rebelled against him in public. The Grand Inquisitor comes into the room, having been summoned by the king. Philip II wants to find out if he will receive God’s forgiveness if he punishes his son by death. The Grand Inquisitor, a fanatical and cruel church authority, dissipates the king’s fears and doubts and convinces him to be inflexible in sacrificing his son. He also asks the king to deliver the Marquis of Posa to him as well, a petition that the king vehemently rejects.
After the Grand Inquisitor has gone, the queen rushes into the king’s chamber demanding justice because her jewelry box has disappeared. Philip II shows her the jewelry box, but she refuses to open it. The king unlocks it, finding a miniature portrait of Don Carlos inside. Philip II accuses Isabel of Valois of adultery and she faints. The king calls for help. The Princess of Éboli and Rodrigo answer his call. When Philip II is calm again, he realizes that the queen is innocent. Isabel of Valois and the Princess of Éboli are left alone, and it is then when the Princess confesses her double treachery: she is the one who accused Isabel of Valois of adultery before the king and, what is more, she has been the king’s lover. The queen tells the princess to choose between banishment from the country or entering a convent and then leaves the room. Alone, the Princess of Éboli curses her beauty and her disloyalty to the queen. When she is finally calm again, she realizes that she still has time to save Don Carlos. She thus makes a plan to help him escape from prison.
In his prison cell, the prince receives a visit from his friend Rodrigo, who comes to reassure the prince of his loyalty and to tell him that he will soon be free. He also tells Don Carlos that the queen will go to Yuste to bid him farewell before he goes to Flanders. The Marquis of Posa has claimed that the documents the prince had given him were his. These documents, which have since been taken from the Marquis, have condemned him in the eyes of the Inquisition, and he tells his friend that he has little time left. Meanwhile, two officials of the Holy Office have silently crept into the prison; they fatally shoot Rodrigo, who dies in the prince’s arms after making him promise to liberate Flanders. Then Philip II comes in, ready to seek reconciliation with his son. Don Carlos rejects the king’s offer. Meanwhile, noise can be heard in the street as the crowd clamors for the prince to be set free. In the resulting confusion, which has been instigated by the Princess of Éboli, Don Carlos manages to flee right before the arrival of the Grand Inquisitor, whose impressive presence serves to quell the rebellion.
Cloister of the Yuste Monastery. It is nighttime. As the queen awaits the arrival of the prince, she prays in front of the tomb of Charles V and reflects on her happy youth in Fontainebleau. Don Carlos appears; he has come to bid farewell to his stepmother before going to Flanders, but they are interrupted by Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor who want to arrest the lovers. Surrounded by the Inquisition, Don Carlos tries to defend himself, but the sudden appearance of the mysterious monk freezes the scene when everyone present recognize the figure of Charles V, who drags Don Carlos into the darkness.