Premiere November 20, 2010
Opera. For the first time in over 20 years Verdi’s magnificent opera Don Carlos will be performed in Gothenburg. Directed by Staffan Valdemar Holm.
Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901).
Watch a movie from the performance.
The grand historic opera Don Carlos is based on the freedom play of the same name, by Schiller. But Verdi put his imprint on the opera in his masterly characterisation of the different roles: the powerful but oh so lonely King Philip, his intensely pubertal son Don Carlos, freedom fighter Posa, the unhappy Queen Elisabeth and her temperamental and intriguing lady-in-waiting Eboli.
Watch pictures from the performance.
The story takes place in Spain in 1560 and centres on an unhappy love story that paralyses the Spanish Royal family. Don Carlos and Elisabeth love each other, but due to political reasons she is forced to marry his father, King Philip. The inconsolable Don Carlos is forced into a struggle for power that eventually leads to his own father condemning him to death.
For this production we have engaged former Head of Dramaten (The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm) Staffan Valdemar Holm. Staffan has produced a number of Verdi operas abroad and has a special love for Schiller. His constant scenography partner, and wife, Bente Lykke Møller, has created a magnificent decor and historical costumes. The famous Rumanian conductor Christian Badea returns to Gothenburg for this production. He last performed at the Gothenburg opera in our production of Turandot.
We are proud to be able to fill many of the demanding principal parts with our own singers. Tomas Lind repeats his Don Carlos from other opera houses. Anders Lorentzson portrays Philip as the lonely father and finds worthy bass resistance in Mats Almgren in his role as the Grand Inquisitor. In the role of Philip’s wife Elisabeth we present Annalena Persson, returning to us after finding great success abroad.
Costume sketches by Bente Lykke Møller.
Don Carlos (Tomas Lind)
The historical Don Carlos
Don Carlos (1545–1568) was Spanish Crown Prince and the son of Philip II. He was born with both physical and mental disorders, and it has been said that these were due to excessive inbreeding. Early on in life he was assessed as incapable of succeeding his father; this fact was regarded as a national security matter and was kept secret through a variety of schemes. Among other things he had to pretend to be the suitor of Elisabeth of Valois during the peace negotiations with France in 1559, then his father took his place. A few years later he fell down some stairs, causing a severe deterioration of his physical and mental health. It is said that his mental illness expressed itself in an obsession with torturing animals; among other things he skinned horses while they were still alive. He adopted a hostile attitude towards his father at an early age. He schemed against him and had plans to take control over the Flanders region; even becoming a supporter of their independence movement. Don Carlos was jailed by his father in 1568, and died in prison. The cause of death has never been fully clarified. The rumour that he was murdered by his father has been proven untrue, as has the rumour that Don Carlos planned the murder of Philip II.
Don Carlos according to Schiller/Verdi
As a professor of history, Friedrich Schiller knew when he was recounting facts and when he was creating fiction. But despite what is usually said about his play Don Carlos, it is generally surprisingly consistent with actual events. However, it is far from accurate when it comes to the inner, emotional dimension: Schiller's Don Carlos is a typical romantic hero - misunderstood and unlucky in love, but not mentally ill and definitely not a torturer of animals. It also seems as if the real Don Carlos was not in love with Elisabeth. Verdi followed in Schiller's footsteps, but struggled with finding a true aria or solo for the title role, other than the short introductory aria. This may also have been caused by Verdi's belief that the original tenor was not good enough.
Tomas Lind sings the role of Don Carlos, a role he has previously performed in Stockholm. He has been a member of the Göteborg Opera ensemble since 1989. Thomas thinks understanding the historical Don Carlos is easy, if you think of him as an abused child and a member of a royal family to boot. That must mean that a lot of things were out of bounds but other things allowed, such as the torturing of animals."We have all felt that we've missed out on love and felt unloved at some point", says Tomas Lind, "so you have to channel that part of yourself in order to play the role." Imagine if, on top of that, you had been abused both mentally and physically as a child, just like Don Carlos was? Even grown and otherwise powerful men can suddenly feel very small in the presence of their father - just like Carlos. And that might never change."
Tomas Lind agrees that Don Carlos can be seen as an outsider. Tomas was also an outsider when younger but in a completely different way - he often chose his own path and had difficulty accepting advice and criticism: "I probably didn't vacillate as much as Don Carlos and I definitely never cried when I was younger, unlike him." Tomas also had a very good relationship with his own dad - "He was a very warm person, even if he found it difficult to talk about feelings," says Tomas - and he has never had a step mother. Thomas lives in the Hisingen area of Göteborg and has been in a relationship for the last ten years. He has one daughter from a previous marriage, now 29. His relationship with animals is the complete opposite of Carlos' - Tomas has had two dogs, and especially the second one, a Riesenschnauzer, was a great source of joy for him, he says.
Filip II (Anders Lorentzson)
The historical Philip II
Philip II (1527-1598) was the son of Charles V, who abdicated and became a monk in 1556. Upon his abdication Philip became king of the Spanish kingdoms Castile and Aragon and their colonies, as well as of Milan, Naples, Sicily and the Netherlands. Until his death, Philip II was the most powerful man in Europe - head of the original "empire where the sun never sets". He is seen as a hard-working and deeply religious monarch, who supported the Counter-reformation with all his power. Philip II lived in the monastery palace Escorial, which he started constructing in 1563. He was married four times; the first marriage to Maria of Portugal, who gave birth to his son Don Carlos. Elisabeth was his third wife, and she gave birth to two daughters but died while delivering the third. His fourth marriage was to his sister's daughter, a woman nearly 30 years younger than he was. She gave birth to his son Philip. Just like his father, Philip III succeeded Philip II in 1598.
Philip II according to Schiller/Verdi
"It is as strict and horrifying as the cruel ruler who once built it," Verdi said when visiting the Escorial Palace in Madrid in 1863. Five years later his opera premièred, with Philip II as one of the main characters. Both Schiller and Verdi created a nuanced and very human portrait of a ruler with a power that we cannot even imagine today - but a man who could still not control his emotional life or that of those around him. The historical accuracy of the character can only be guessed at, but the character does seem reliably portrayed. When it comes to actual events, this is the role that corresponds best to reality.
Anders Lorentzson has wanted to perform the role of Philip II for a long time. He has actually visited Escorial in Madrid, though the visit took place 19 years ago, and was impressed by the king's enormous library. During the visit he said jokingly "One day I'll be the King of Spain". Little did he know that this would one day be true, even though he already knew of the role back then and had sung Philip's great monologue. Anders himself has been married to the same woman for 25 years."I sowed my wild oats before I got married," he says jokingly while talking about Philip's four wives and mistress. Anders has three sons and emphasises that his relationship with them is very good, unlike Philip. The sons all play an instrument - guitar, bass and drums - so he has an entire accompanying band at home. For his wife's 50th birthday Anders acted as vocalist for the "boy band".
Regarding the character of Philip, Anders says that a man with such power must struggle to see any limits at all. But the Grand Inquisitor and the church place limits on his power, which is a source of immense frustration for him. He also realises that he cannot control his emotional state of mind, as emotions have to remain free of control. From the very start he realises that he cannot force Elisabeth to love him. No man can ever achieve that kind of power. As regards religion, Anders says that he is religious but not a member of any particular faith. He believes that religion has caused a lot of misery, which is also shown by this opera. Anders further mentions the Israel-Palestine conflict as an example. "Religion often becomes a cover for those who want to gain more power, which makes it quite insincere," Anders Lorentzson concludes.
Elisabeth of Valois (Annalena Persson)
The historical Elisabeth
Elisabeth (1545-1568) was a French princess and daughter to Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici. She had originally been betrothed to Don Carlos, who was of the same age, in 1559, but this was later changed to a betrothal to his father, Philip II, as a guarantee for the peace accord between France, Spain, England and the Savoy. The next year, at the age of 15, she arrived in Madrid and became Queen Isabella. She was probably never in love with Don Carlos, but when he was put in prison she is said to have locked herself in a room and cried for a week. She gave birth to two daughters during her marriage with Philip, but died delivering the third - the same year that Don Carlos passed away.
Elisabeth according to Schiller/Verdi
Verdi allowed his librettist du Loche to write an entire first act that did not exist in Schiller's play. That act takes place in France and lets us see how Elisabeth and Don Carlos fall in love when betrothed and how her husband-to-be is changed as part of the peace accords, from Don Carlos, the son, to Philip II, the father. (This act was later removed to create the four act version, the version performed at the Göteborg Opera.) The information in the act is historically accurate, except for the fact that the young betrothed were never in love. However, rumours that they were in love were spread by the protestants in order to discredit the Spanish royal family, and Schiller may have based his work on this. And that's lucky, because their duets are accompanied by some of the most beautiful music Verdi ever composed.
Elisabeth in Don Carlos is Annalena Persson's very first Verdi role. She probably thought she would sing a Verdi role a lot sooner, as she performed a duet from Don Carlos during the final student performance at the University College of Opera in Stockholm. It likely poses a larger challenge now that she has sung a lot of Wagner, as Verdi stretches vocal abilities much further and demands more refined singing. Annalena hopes this will provide further inspiration for the other roles. Just like many other late Verdi roles, Elisabeth combines lyric and dramatic song in a way that can be difficult to handle. Further Verdi roles are not part of Annalena's plans at present - however Lady Macbeth would probably be the next one. Regarding the role of Elisabeth, she says: "I really feel for her! This could easily take place right now, although not necessarily in a royal family. For some people it is part of everyday life to feel restricted from making choices, or to feel as if they're in prison. For example, this could be true of people from other cultures, and you only have to go as far back as to the early 20th century to be in an era where your dad decided who you should marry. I always find it fascinating to learn about the era for each role and then see where similar issues exist.
I haven't had to go back far in time for any of my roles." The difficult thing with this role is the need for restraint. Roles such as Isolde and Salome actually have the same feelings and are just as frustrated, but they can express themselves freely. Annalena has also looked at her own life and realised she often used to "bottle things up inside'', but that she no longer does so. "When my mum turned 60, she said she no longer cared what people thought of her - luckily that point came earlier on for me." Annalena moved out of home at an early age, 15 - the same age that Elisabeth was on her arrival to Spain. She moved in order to attend the Music College of Karlstad. She has also lived with an older man, although she did so of her own free will - she has been in a relationship with a jazz musician for 17 years. They have a very longed-for daughter, now 5, who they adopted from South Africa. However, the largest similarity between her life and that of Elisabeth is that Annalena also has a stepson, now 22. But having been his bonus mum (the expression currently favoured in Sweden ) since he was 5 it is unlikely that there will be further similarities with Elisabeth's destiny, she concludes with a big laugh.
The Princess of Eboli (Susanne Resmark)
The historical Eboli
Eboli (1540–1592), was actually called Ana de Mendoza y la Cerda, and became the Princess of Eboli upon marriage. She was the daughter of the Viceroy of Peru and married Ruy Gomez da Silva, a childhood friend of Philip II, at the age of 12. They had no less than ten children, and after his death in 1572 she initially became a nun. But her ambitions led her to become close to one of Philip II's other favourites, state secretary Antonio Pérez. They embarked on a love affair but were arrested for conspiracy against the state. She refused to ask Philip II for forgiveness and was imprisoned. She later died in prison. She was seen as very beautiful, but also as very domineering and intriguing. Her beauty was not lessened by the fact that she wore a patch over one eye - an eye lost in a duel with a page in her early years.
Eboli according to Schiller/Verdi
This role bears almost not relation with historical facts - except for Eboli being a part of the court of Philip II, that she briefly joined a nunnery, and that she was very beautiful. There is no reason to believe that she would have been the mistress of Philip II - although she was the mistress of men close to him - nor that she was in love with Don Carlos. However, the emotional aspects of this role are correct - both Schiller and Verdi describe her as scheming, domineering and impassioned. But her life ends with her cursing over her beauty that has led her to make unwise decisions.
The first thing Susanne Resmark does during the interview is to take out her reading glasses so that she can read properly. But she still has vision in both of her eyes, rather than having lost one of them in a duel, "although I loved the fencing lessons at the University College of Opera," she says. However, there are still similarities between her and the real Eboli. "I love to ride, fence, flirt and hunt, just like she does," Susanne says. Susanne, originally from Ängelholm, used to participate in riding competitions when she was young, but she had to give riding up to concentrate on her singing. She also has a hunting licence and hunts both elk and deer. In addition, she also resembles Eboli through her "quick temperament and her joy of life," she says. Susanne has performed this demanding mezzo soprano role twice before - both in Copenhagen - and says that is one of the few operas where the mezzo and the baritone (Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa) are the driving forces of the story. Eboli is not suffocated by the strict rules at the Spanish court - instead they seem to encourage her. But her Achilles heel, according to Susanne, is her love for Don Carlos - it drives her. It makes her supply the king with incorrect information regarding Elisabeth and the jewellery box: "Elisabeth and Eboli were previously very close - Eboli even took care of Elisabeth when she first came to Spain.
I think Eboli must have been Philip's lover even before Elisabeth arrived, otherwise it seems improbable. The fact that the king continues with the affair afterwards is probably because Eboli is like a breath of fresh air compared to the sad Elisabeth." In her great aria, Eboli sings that it is her beauty that has destroyed everything in her life. Susanne interprets it as Eboli believing that the source of her destruction was that the king found her beautiful. She believes that beauty is only surface-deep, but that the first impression of someone matters a lot. Susanne knows the subject matter well, as she had gastric bypass surgery last year and now weighs 50 kilo (almost 8 stone) less. It's much easier to play these types of roles now, she feels, even though she has never lacked self-confidence on the stage. But previously she probably would have refused to lie on a table, dressed in just a negligée. It has also become a lot easier to dance and get on her knees on stage now. Susanne has been married to a civil engineer for the last 16 years and they have two kids, 14 and 12 years old. They live in a large house in Ängelholm and have never been party to any intrigues or conspiracies against the state.
Bente Lykke Møller
Bente Lykke Møller, scenographer and costume designer, attended Statens Teaterskole in Copenhagen and has since then worked with both theatre and opera in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Chile and Austria. Together with her husband, director and former head of Dramaten (The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm), she founded Skandinavisk Førsøgs-teater. They have created a number of productions for Det Kongelige Teater, Malmö Dramatiska Teater, Dramaten and Kungliga Operan. Bente Lykke Møller also works as a scenographer on film and TV productions. In 2009 she received the Cultural Award from Sydsvenskan together with her husband.