Sex, Politics and Opera - All life can be reduced to these elements.
Being an arbiter for entertainment can be tricky in these last few moments of 2010 and into 2011. This year of 2010 will not be remembered for great movies - not much to talk about at the Oscars, not much to vote on either. Audiences are however, going in droves to their local theaters to the opera.
If you can't go to the Met in New York http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/hd_events_next.aspx , you can satisfy your drama cravings by attending performances transmitted live in HD at 1,500 venue theaters worldwide. Everyone says it's almost better than in person, now to be up that close where the camera zooms into performers' faces - see the pounding in their chests, the ripples in their facial and neck muscles, experience new emotions when you hear them sing"and go backstage during the breaks - this is more personal than any ordinary movie. This is real life.
But can the opera "Don Carlo" can be reduced to those basic elements of life: sex and politics. You do know that throughout time sex was/is what fuels armies. Leaders of clans, which in time turned into countries, were/are driven by genetics and heredity. In times past, leaders put high value on chaste, high born ladies both before and after marriage - only outwardly was religion given as the reason. The real motivation was they wanted to keep the line of heredity pure, no foreign bodies entering the gene pool. Princesses and queens stayed close to home so they would not be compromised.
This means that romance and marriage are quite dissimilar subjects. Romance was for troubadours and tales of infatuated dreaminess, while marriage was for empire-building - thus the storyline of "Don Carlo," composed by Giuseppe Verdi. If it's Verdi, it must be good - and it is.
For the 2010-11 Met season, this "Don Carlo" 5 act opera is sung in Italian, though it has been revised many times, often sung in 4 acts. And when it's "Don Carlos" (with an "s"), it's sung in French (the original language of composition, and a more poetic version) http://www.suite101.com/content/verdi-opera-don-carlo-a74085 . The Italian version has been described as more "meat and potatoes," by Matthew Gurewitsch, "New York Time," November 19, 2010 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C02E2D6143DF932A15752C1A9669D8B63 . Rather than "Meat," I would suggest the Italian version might be more visceral.
"The New York Times" internet tagline says, "Don Carlo, the unstable son of Spain's King Philip." The story for the opera suggests that the Spanish Prince Don Carlo was "unstable." A look at history shows Carlo would probably have been just fine if he hadn't fallen down those stairs (perhaps pushed) incurring a serious brain injury. Yes, I think this should have been included in the opera. He could have been pushed by members of Spain's secret police, in those times called, The Inquisition, which is in the opera.
Much of this opera is based on true life experiences, as two superpowers of that period dance for the top prize - France and the Hapsburg Empire, which included Spain. At that time, there was nothing more important in the world.
In the opera, the French princess is Elisabeth, daughter of Henry III, the last Valois King of France www.valois.org (a must click website; I am very fond of the Valois dynasty), is betrothed to Prince Don Carlo, but political situations required that Elisabeth marry Carlo's widowed father, Philip II, King of Spain http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/king-philip-ii-spain.htm . Don Carlo loved Elizabeth at first meeting and she returned his favor, before she met his father.
In real life, Elizabeth and Carlo - both age 14 - were mutually infatuated - first love is sweet - but after she was sent to Spain for the arranged marriage to Philip, she soon came to love her new husband, age 39. He was exceedingly attentive, smitten, having fun playing house, even to the extent of dismissing his mistress http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_of_Valois. Kings always had mistresses because love matches were rare, by political necessity.
It was a mark of pride to for a King if his mistress bore his illegitimate children - assuring he was virile, thus supposedly victorious in future battles - also a good financial arrangement for the mistress. But Philip and Elisabeth seemed in truth to express a deep affection for the other. Sadly, she died in childbirth at age 23, living Philip with 2 small daughters.
In the opera, Philip's mistress is given a prominent part and named Eboli. She displays her treachery multiple times - the role of the bad girl. Another prominent character was created for the opera; Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa, is an Iago-like advisor to Carlo, and encourages him to help the Dutch. The entire storyline is very Shakespearian.
The libretto can be found at http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history/stories/synopsis.aspx?id=4 .
As a founding member of the "Where is the Arc" club, I encourage everyone to search for the arc. Having nothing to do with Noah's boat, the "arc" is an exact place in a story of any kind: play, screenplay, bedtime story, folktale, movie - opera - where the story's movement makes its most significant twist. Usually about three quarters of the way to completion, there is a point where there is no going back, also no moving forward without change taking place. It is a feeling you get - and some members of the club will disagree as to what/where it is - that's why it's fun to play the game. Arc-finding gives you an altered perspective of a story; you suddenly look at a story from the point of message, and a view to plot construction. Once you search for an arc, you will be hooked.
Like "composition" in a painting or a sculpture, look to find the arc. "I never thought of that before." Ah, now I'm on alert.