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Don Carlos in its original version

An interview with Philippe Jordan — By Marion Mirande and Simon Hatab

Without a doubt, the leading production of the new season, Don Carlos brings a vocal dream team to the stage under Krzysztof Warlikowski’s direction. The Paris Opera’s musical director Philippe Jordan talks to us about the work and reveals a few secrets about its preparation.


Tell us about the version of Don Carlos which will be performed at the Opera?

Philippe Jordan : It is the original five-act work with a French libretto, specifically composed by Verdi for the Paris Opera in 1866. At the time of its premiere, several French versions already existed because the composer has edited down his opera to allow theatre-goers who lived outside of Paris to return home at a decent hour. However, a few years ago, the passages cut for practical reasons were rediscovered and re-integrated into the score, allowing us to present the complete original version as initially conceived by Verdi.

   

How did Verdi draw inspiration from grand French opera?

Ph.J. : At the time, any composer who created an opera in Paris was obliged to pay homage to grand opera as defined by Meyerbeer. It was a style to which numerous composers yielded: Wagner with Tannhäuser, Rossini with William Tell and Verdi, in 1855, with Les Vêpres siciliennes. Traditionally in five acts and akin to today’s blockbusters like Gladiator, grand opera combined a historical subject apt to showcase great voices, with lighting effects, chorales, at least one major group scene (the auto-da-fé in Don Carlos) combined with more intimate scenes and dance. Since the time of Louis XIV, ballet had constituted one of opera's most essential and fascinating features. Each work in grand opera style had a danced section customarily placed half-way through the work. As important as this was, we have excluded this ballet from our production since from a dramaturgical standpoint it would make little sense.

   

How does this Don Carlos echo the life of the composer?

Ph.J. : Verdi himself was a man vested with a national mission who worked for many years for the unification of Italy. Echoing the composer's social and patriotic life, Don Carlos is thus a key work. The questions raised by the revolutionary Marquis de Posa who seeks to change public opinion, all too often kept in check by the Church, wrote a new chapter in Verdian drama. By placing a political narrative at the work's very core, he turned the page on the Rigoletto - Il Trovatore - La Traviata trilogy where the storyline revolved solely around romantic love.

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