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Maria Callas – “Tu che le vanità” – Aria of Elisabetta di Valois – “Don Carlo” – G. Verdi – Hamburg 1959

by Luca

Maria Callas – “Tu che le vanità” – Aria of Elisabetta di Valois – “Don Carlo” – G. Verdi – Hamburg 1959.

It was common practice at the time for most theatres (other than those in French-speaking communities) to perform operas in Italian, and an Italian translation of Don Carlos was prepared in the autumn of 1866 by Achille de Lauzières. On 18 November 1866 Verdi wrote to Giovanni Ricordi, offering the Milan publisher the Italian rights, but insisting that the opera:
must be performed in its entirety as it will be performed for the first time at the Paris Opéra. Don Carlos is an opera in five acts with ballet: if nevertheless the management of Italian theatres would like to pair it with a different ballet, this must be placed either before or after the uncut opera, never in the middle, following the barbarous custom of our day.
However, the Italian translation was first performed not in Italy but in London at the Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden on 4 June 1867 (now the Royal Opera House), where it was produced and conducted by Michael Costa, but not as Verdi desired: it was in a cut and altered form. The first act was removed, the ballet in act 3 was omitted, and Carlo’s aria Io la vidi (originally in the first act ) was moved to the third act, just before the “terzetto”. The duet between Philip and the Inquisitor was shortened by four lines, and Elisabeth’s aria in the fifth act consisted only of part of the middle section and the reprise.
The production was initially considered a success, and Verdi sent a congratulatory note to Costa. Later when Verdi learned of the alterations, he was greatly irritated, but Costa’s version anticipated revisions Verdi himself would make in 1882–83.
The Italian premiere on 27 October 1867 at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conducted by Verdi’s close friend Angelo Mariani, was an “instant success”, and this version, although produced in Verdi’s absence, was more complete and included the ballet. For the Rome premiere on 9 February 1868 at the Teatro Apollo, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Papal censor changed the Inquisitor into a Gran Cancelliere (Grand Chancellor) and the Monk/Emperor into a Solitario (Recluse).
This version of the opera was first performed in Milan at La Scala on 25 March 1868, and prestige productions in most other Italian opera houses followed, but it did not become a popular success. The length was a particular problem, and subsequent performances were generally heavily cut. The first production in Naples in 1871 was indisputably a failure.
Performances of Don Carlo in the first half of the twentieth century were rare, but in the post Second World War period it has been regularly performed, particularly in the four-act 1884 “Milan version” in Italian. Following the notable 1958 staging of the 1886 five-act “Modena version” in Italian by The Royal Opera company, Covent Garden (directed by Luchino Visconti), this version has increasingly been performed elsewhere and has been recorded by, among others, Georg Solti and Carlo Maria Giulini. Charles Mackerras conducted this five-act version (complete with Verdi’s original prelude, the woodcutters’ scene and the original ending)in an English translation for English National Opera at the London Coliseum in 1975.