Sunday, January 27, 2013

Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis


On 78s, to fit on a single side, Philip's monologue was often begun at "Dormirò sol nel manto mio regal," as in the case of this classic recording Ezio Pinza made for Victor on Feb. 17, 1927
KING PHILIP: I will only sleep in my royal mantle,
when I have attained the evening of my days.
I will only sleep beneath the black vault,
I will sleep beneath the black vault
there in my tomb in the Escurial!

If only the royal crown gave me the power
to read in hearts what God alone can see!
Ah, if only the royal crown &c.

[Spoken in half voice]
If the prince sleeps, the traitor is standing watch.
The king will lose his crown, the husband his honor.

I will only sleep in my royal mantle
when I have attained the evening of my days.
I will only sleep beneath the black vault,
I will sleep beneath the black vault
there in my tomb in the Escurial!

Ah, if only the royal crown gave me the power
to read in hearts!

[Long silence]
She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

by Ken

Yes, yes, Sunday Classics is on hiatus. Nevertheless, Friday night we began focusing on the great monologue of King Philip II in his study from the next-to-last act of Verdi's Don Carlos. And we began by spotlighting a couple of passages from the monologue, which I'd never had the opportunity to have listeners listen to together.

FIRST THERE WAS THIS:
I still see her again, contemplating with a sad look
my white mane the day that she came here from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.
[in French]

José van Dam (bs-b), King Philip II; Orchestre de Paris, Antonio Pappano, cond. EMI, recorded live at the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), Mar. 10-16, 1996
[in Italian]

Jerome Hines (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Fernando Previtali, cond. Live performance, Sept. 2, 1962

Ferruccio Furlanetto (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, cond. Sony, recorded Apr.-May 1992

THEN THERE WAS THIS:
If only royalty gave us the power
to read in the hearts of men
where God alone can see all!
Ah, if only royalty &c.
[in French]

José van Dam (bs-b), King Philip II; Orchestre de Paris, Antonio Pappano, cond. EMI, recorded live at the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), Mar. 10-16, 1996
[in Italian]

Jerome Hines (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Fernando Previtali, cond. Live performance, Sept. 2, 1962

Since Friday night's preview i've stumbled across an admirable summary of the plot-to-date, by the annotator-translator of the booklet for the Samuel Ramey-EMI recital CD from which the French-language performance of the monologue we'll be hearing later comes, Lionel Salter:
For reasons of state, Elisabeth de Valois has married Philip II of Spain instead of his son Don Carlos, to whom she had been betrothed and whose love she returns. The king, who has been led to doubt her fidelity, broods in his study that, alone and unloved, he will find peace only in the tomb.
Whew! Good show, Lionel!

As it happens, we've talked quite a lot about Philip's father and son -- respectively, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his grandson-namesake, the prince and heir apparent, Don Carlos -- principally in the March 2010 post (plus previews) "In Verdi's Don Carlos, all paths lead back to the tomb of Charles V" The elder Charles was a leading character in Verdi's first operatic masterpiece, Ernani (after Victor Hugo), in which, in anticipation of his elevation to HRE, he searched inside himself and found the fixings for a leap from the farily reprehensible libertine king we knew earlier to a man worthy of his new responsibilities.

The spirit of the emperor hovers over Don Carlos (after Schiller). Depending on what you choose to believe, the emperor may even make an appearance at the end of the opera. In Don Carlos, much as the elder Charles in time of crisis holed up at the tomb of an ancestral emperor Charles, Charlemagne (cf. the great aria "O sommo Carlo"), his own tomb is the place where his grandson seeks solace and understanding in his time of crisis, at the monastery of San Yuste, to which the emperor had mysteriously retreated following his confounding abdication of the throne at the height of his worldly powers.

In fact, we've also met Philip himself, in the September 2011 post (with previews) "In Don Carlos can Posa talk King Philip out of his proto-Cheneyite concept of bringing about peace?." There we were focused on the political crisis besetting Philip: the Protestant insurrection in Flanders, which as the world's no. 1 Catholic ruler-enforcer he was engaged in suppressing with monstrous violence. In his monologue, as outlined by Lionel Salter, it's the king's personal crisis that comes to the fore.

What always fascinates me about the two passages we've isolated is Philip's monumental self-delusion. He would have us, or rather himself, believe that what he needs above all is the gift of reading what's in men's hearts, those innermost secrets that only God is privy to. But as he makes clear at the outset, to us and himself, is that with regard to his beautiful young wife, he has never lacked for knowledge of what was in her heart, from that horrible moment when she first laid eyes on him: She didn't love him, she doesn't love him, she never loved him. If he wanted to know anything more about her feelings, he might at any point have tried the rash expedient of asking her. He might have saved all concerned all manner of anguish.


WE'RE NOT GOING TO DO ANYTHING
FANCY WITH PHILIP'S MONOLOGUE



The great bass Tancredi Pasero sings the complete monologue, from around 1936.

We're not going to do anything fancy with the monologue. We're just going to break it down into three sections for slightly closer listening, and then we're going to put it back together again.


Part 1: Orchestral introduction and
musings of the sleepless king

The curtain rises at 1:29 of the Siepi-Stiedry recording (1:39 of the Rossi-Lemeni-de Fabritiis, 1:38 of the Schrott-Frizza). The man we meet slumped over his desk is a wreck, physically and emotionally, and we know immediately the subject of his immediate torment. Just because the mess is entirely of his making doesn't mean the agony isn't real. And he has had outside help. Note Lionel Salter's careful wording, that Philip "has been led to doubt [Elisabeth's] fidelity." As we will find out by the end of this scene, not only is the charge totally untrue, but it has been nurtured in the king's head by the woman he in fact has been sleeping with, the queen's supposed confidante, the Princess Eboli.

Philip's tortured rumination on his condition of lovelessness leads him directly into the first of our two sound bites: his tortured recollection of her look the day she arrived from France.

In Italian
The King's study in Madrid. The KING, plunged in deep meditation, leaning on a table covered with papers, where candles are near burning out. Day begins to illuminate the colored glass of the windows.

KING PHILIP [as if in a dream]:
She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

I still see her again, contemplating with a sad look
my white mane the day that she came here from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Nov. 11, 1950

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bs), King Philip II; NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo), Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond. Telecast performance, Sept. 2, 1967

In French
The King's study in Madrid. The KING, plunged in deep meditation, leaning on a table covered with papers, where candles are near burning out. Day begins to illuminate the colored glass of the windows.

KING PHILIP [as if in a dream]:
She doesn't love me.
No, her heart is closed to me.
She never loved me!

I still see her again, looking in silence at
my white hair the day that she arrived from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

Erwin Schrott (bs), King Philip II; Rafat Jezierski, cello; Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, Riccardo Frizza, cond. Decca, recorded Jan.-Feb. 2008


Part 2: Philip snaps out of his trance
and thinks ahead to the big sleep

Now the king snaps back to cold reality. The detail in Verdi's setting is minute and endlessly fascinating. Unfortunately, singers and conductors and directors tend to resort to vocal mugging and overindulging, no doubt afraid of trying to keep an audience fixed on this lone man unraveling at his desk in the small of the morning.

I should note that I'm not breaking at the monologue's most conspicuous turning point, "Je dormirai dans mon manteau royal" ("Dormirò sol nel manto mio regal"). Instead we're going to let this middle section run right up to the start of our second sound bite.

In Italian
[Coming back to himself] Where am I?
These candles are nearly finished.
Dawn whitens my balcony.
Day is already dawning!
I see my days passing slowly!
Sleep, o God, has vanished from my drooping eyes.

I will only sleep in my royal mantle,
when I have attained the evening of my days.
I will only sleep beneath the black vault,
I will sleep beneath the black vault,
there in my tomb in the Escurial!

Jerome Hines (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Apr. 5, 1952

Jaakko Ryhänen (bs), King Philip II; Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra, Alberto Hold-Garrido, cond. Naxos, recorded live, Dec. 1999-Jan. 2000

In French
[Coming back to himself] Where am I?
These candles are consumed.
Dawn makes those windows silver.
Here is day!
Alas! Salutary sleep, sweet sleep
has fled these eyelids forever.

I will sleep in my royal mantle,
when my last day sounds.
I will sleep under the stone vaults,
I will sleep under the stone vaults
of the cellars of the Escurial.

Erwin Schrott (bs), King Philip II; Rafat Jezierski, cello; Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, Riccardo Frizza, cond. Decca, recorded Jan.-Feb. 2008


Part 3: "If only royalty gave us the power
to read in the hearts of men"

Now we come to Philips's self-deluding pretense that his problems would be solved, or materially alleviated, if only he could read the depths of people's hearts. After which he mind wanders back through fragments of thought we've already heard.

In Italian
If only the royal crown gave me the power
to read in hearts what God alone can see!
Ah, if only the royal crown &c.

[Spoken in half voice]
If the prince sleeps, the traitor is standing watch.
The king will lose his crown, the husband his honor.

I will only sleep in my royal mantle,
when I have attained the evening of my days.
I will only sleep beneath the black vault,
I will sleep beneath the black vault
there in my tomb in the Escurial!

Ah, if only the royal crown gave me the power
to read in hearts!

[Long silence] She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.
[He falls back into his reverie.]

Giorgio Tozzi (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Kurt Adler, cond. Live performance, Mar. 7, 1964

Boris Christoff (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Gabriele Santini, cond. DG, recorded July and Sept. 1961

Ferruccio Furlanetto (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, cond. Sony, recorded Apr.-May 1992

In French
If only royalty gave us the power
to read in the hearts of men
where God alone can see all!
Ah, if only royalty &c.

[Spoken in half voice]
If the king sleeps, treason is hatched.
They'll ravish him of his crown and his wife!

I will sleep in my royal mantle
when my last day sounds.
I will sleep under the stone vaults,
I will sleep under the stone vaults
of the cellars of the Escurial.

Ah, if only royalty gave us the power
to read in the hearts of men!

[Long silence] She doesn't love me.
No, her heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.
[He falls back into his reverie.]

Erwin Schrott (bs), King Philip II; Rafat Jezierski, cello; Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, Riccardo Frizza, cond. Decca, recorded Jan.-Feb. 2008


NOW WE PUT IT ALL TOGETHER, STARTING
WITH TWO PERFORMANCES BY CESARE SIEPI

The King's study in Madrid. The KING, plunged in deep meditation, leaning on a table covered with papers, where candles are near burning out. Day begins to illuminate the colored glass of the windows.

KING PHILIP [as if in a dream]:
She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

I still see her again, contemplating with a sad look
my white mane the day that she came here from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

[Coming back to himself] Where am I?
These candles are nearly finished.
Dawn whitens my balcony.
Day is already dawning!
I see my days passing slowly!
Sleep, o God, has vanished from my drooping eyes.

I will only sleep in my royal mantle
when I have attained the evening of my days.
I will only sleep beneath the black vault,
I will sleep beneath the black vault
there in my tomb in the Escurial!

If only the royal crown gave me the power
to read in hearts what God alone can see!
Ah, if only the royal crown &c.

[Spoken in half voice]
If the prince sleeps, the traitor is standing watch.
The king will lose his crown, the husband his honor.

I will only sleep in my royal mantle,
when I have attained the evening of my days.
I will only sleep beneath the black vault,
I will sleep beneath the black vault
there in my tomb in the Escurial!

Ah, if only the royal crown gave me the power
to read in hearts!

[Long silence] She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.
[He falls back into his reverie.]

Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Antonino Votto, cond. Live performance, June 16, 1956

Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Live performance, Apr. 29, 1972


NOW WE ACTUALLY HAVE THREE
PERFORMANCES BY NICOLAI GHIAUROV


I very much wanted to include a performance by Ghiaurov, who as suggested earlier sang the role in a lot of places for a long time, and in the early part of that time sang it quite beautifully. As it happens, though, I don't have the Solti-Decca Don Carlos on CD, and I decided that I wasn't going to fuss this week with LPs or open-reel tapes. See, while I might actually settle on this recording if I had to propose a single version, I don't listen to it much -- it has so many problems. I also don't have Ghiaurov's earlier Decca recital recording of the monologue on CD. And while I do have his later commercial recording of the role, with Herbert von Karajan for EMI, on CD, that's the mushier-voiced later Ghiaurov, and I'm not so crazy about what Karajan brings to the music either.

Instead I'm offering a pair of broadcast performances, from 1968 and 1970, neither as broad as the clip timings might indicate -- the last 45 seconds of the La Scala clip and the last minute and 20 seconds of the Vienna State Opera one are given over to applause, which I could have edited out but thought it worth leaving in. The Vienna performance is indeed quite broad, and I think quite purposefully so, and quite beautifully conducted, but the more prosaically conducted and played Scala performance is certainly more silkily, I might even venture commandingly, sung. (I'd be curious about reader preferences.) Finally I decided -- what the heck? -- to include the Karajan recording, for comparison.


Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Claudio Abbado, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1968

Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), King Philip II; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Horst Stein, cond. Live performance, Oct. 25, 1970

Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), King Philip II; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 15-20, 1978


NOW WE HAVE A PERFORMANCE IN FRENCH
The King's study in Madrid. The KING, plunged in deep meditation, leaning on a table covered with papers, where candles are near burning out. Day begins to illuminate the colored glass of the windows.

KING PHILIP [as if in a dream]:
She doesn't love me.
No, her heart is closed to me.
She never loved me!

I still see her again, looking in silence at
my white hair the day that she arrived from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

[Coming back to himself] Where am I?
These candles are consumed.
Dawn makes those windows silver.
Here is day!
Alas! Salutary sleep, sweet sleep
has fled these eyelids forever.

I will sleep in my royal mantle,
when my last day sounds.
I will sleep under the stone vaults,
I will sleep under the stone vaults
of the cellars of the Escurial.

If only royalty gave us the power
to read in the hearts of men
where God alone can see all!
Ah, if only royalty &c.

[Spoken in half voice]
If the king sleeps, treason is hatched.
They'll ravish him of his crown and his wife!

I will sleep in my royal mantle
when my last day sounds.
I will sleep under the stone vaults,
I will sleep under the stone vaults
of the cellars of the Escurial.

Ah, if only royalty gave us the power
to read in the hearts of men!

[Long silence] She doesn't love me.
No, her heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.
[He falls back into his reverie.]

Samuel Ramey (bs), King Philip II; Munich Radio Orchestra, Jacques Delacôte, cond. EMI, recorded April 1988


FINALLY WE HAVE TWO MORE PERFORMANCES --
ONE IN ITALIAN AND ONE IN FRENCH


I'm not going to say much about them, except that neither is anything like perfect, but in one the imperfections seem to me to matter less than the virtues, whereas in the other I hear mostly imperfections and the virtues, such as they are, don't count for much. I throw these in because I don't know when we're going to get back to Philip's monologue -- though I hope we'll be working our way through the great confrontations that follow in this scene -- and together these performances say something to me about the "progress" of musical standards over these two decades-plus, and things haven't exactly gotten better since then.

In Italian

Boris Christoff (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Gabriele Santini, cond. DG, recorded July and Sept. 1961

In French

Ruggero Raimondi (bs), King Philip II; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Claudio Abbado, cond. DG, recorded 1983-84
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