“In Don Carlo one feels a thirst for freedom”
The Don Carlo performance history at the Bolshoi Theatre is a short one. The opera was premièred at the Theatre on 2 November 1876 by an Italian troupe — there were a total of ten performances after which Don Carlo disappeared for a long time out of the repertoire. Its next appearance on the Theatre playbills was due to the initiative of Fyodor Chaliapin — there was just one performance on 10 February 1917 (Chaliapin sang King Philip). The third production to mark the 150th anniversary of Verdi’s birth opened at the Theatre on 25 October 1963 and this time Don Carlo remained in the repertoire for twenty-five years.
For the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth which this year has been celebrated across the globe, the Bolshoi invited the eminent British director, Adrian Noble, to do a new version of Don Carlo. An acknowledged expert on Shakespeare (for 13 years he was artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and is the author of the book How to do Shakespeare), he is also known as a director of musicals and operas: the span of his interest ranging all the way from baroque opera to the modern musical. He has worked for the Glyndebourne Festival, the Opera Festival at Aix-en-Provence, the Metropolitan, La Scala, Wiener Staatsoper and for other Companies (over 20). He has received more than 20 Olivier Award nominations.
“I belong to the ranks of those directors who trust authors and follow their dramaturgy. Great works talk to us directly across the centuries. And a story which in its time attracted one of the ‘chief’ romantics — Schiller, and then Verdi, the first composer of the Risorgimento, is still topical today. Both Schiller and Verdi examine the issues of state and the individual, of politics and the freedom of man. In Don Carlo one feels a thirst for freedom, I would even say that the spirit of revolt hovers in the air.
It seemed to me natural and logical not to transfer the action of the opera to a different age. If we manage to recreate the world of 16th century Spain on stage, that atmosphere of itself will shock the contemporary spectator and there will be no need to resort to additional directorial devices.
Imagine to yourself: a huge, rapidly growing empire which is held together by the mighty power of king, Inquisition and army. A society which wages a battle against nonconformists, in which rigid ceremonial plays a huge role and live human emotions are dangerous and carry death in their wake.
Luckily there are a lot of portraits of the historical prototypes of the opera’s heroes and we know exactly what they looked like. Their clothes — the external expression of their status in the rigid hierarchy, their duties and their lack of freedom. They are confined in their clothing as if it was a cocoon. Each character to some extent is in prison, each is bound by his duty. Philip II cannot be father to his son — he is a monarch aware of his mission before God and to the empire. Don Carlo is heir to a huge empire, but his convictions are absolutely opposed to those of his father. Elizabeth is queen and does not have the right to show her feelings. And they are all terribly lonely”.