Saturday, March 15, 2014

Preview: Poor King Philip receives yet another unwelcome early-morning visitor

by Ken

I've thought of another loose end I'd really hate not to tie up: our gradual traversal of the great scene in King Philip's study in Act IV (Act III of the four-act version) of Verdi's Don Carlos.

We've already covered the Spanish king's bleak pre-dawn monologue ("Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis," January 2013), where he makes clear that he knows his young wife, the French princess Elisabeth, doesn't love him and never loved him, the proceeds to pretend that his only problem is that even royalty doesn't give people to see into human hearts, where only God can see. And then we've seen the 90-year-old blind Grand Inquisitor pay a just-at-dawn call on the king ("'The pride of the king withers before the pride of the priest!' (Verdi's King Philip)," March 2013) to take advantage of his sleep-deprived, half-crazed state of mind to bully him into submission.

Tonight's brief exchange (whose significance to me personally I'll explain tomorrow) comes after the king has received his next early-morning visitor: the queen, demanding justice for the theft of her jewel box.

VERDI: Don Carlos, Act IV (III), Scene 1: Elisabeth, "Ben lo sapete"
ELISABETH: You know it well: Once my hand
was promised to your son.
Now I belong to you, submissive to God,
but I am immaculate as the lily.
And now there is suspicion
of the honor of Elisabeth . . .
there is doubt about me . . .
And the person who commits the outrage is the king.
KING PHILIP: You speak to me too boldly!
You think me weak
and seem to defy me;
weakness in me
can turn to fury.
Tremble then,
for you, for me!

Eleanor Steber (s), Elisabeth; Jerome Hines (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Kurt Adler, cond. Live performance, Mar. 5, 1955

Sena Jurinac (s), Elisabeth; Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Silvio Varviso, cond. Live performance, June 15, 1968

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


The whole of the brief but crucial Philip-Elisabeth scene.

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