The director of the Paris Opéra, Emile Perrin, was guided by a fortunate intuition when requested the 52-year-old Verdi compose an opera based on Schiller’s “dramatic poem” Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien (Don Carlo, Infante of Spain) in 1865. Schiller was one of Verdi’s favorite dramatists (alongside Shakespeare and Victor Hugo), and Verdi was filled with enthusiasm for the project. He took a close interest in the writing of the French libretto, keen to explore the literary model and all the complexities of adapting it for the stage. Premiered in Paris on 11 March 1867, Don Carlo was to be the longest and most ambitious of all of Verdi’s operas.
For the 2013 Salzburg Festival, Peter Stein and Antonio Pappano are working with the original version of the opera – albeit in Italian and minus the ballet. However, it will include some passages cut from the original 1867 performance, including the prelude to Act One with the chorus of woodcutters and their families, which highlights the dire plight of the French people resulting from the winter and the war with Spain.
In no other opera did Verdi explore such a rich variety of human relationships as in Don Carlo. His music invokes no less powerfully the scenes of the action and the atmosphere of hopelessness that dominates this dark drama from the very beginning.