Verdi’s grand opera Don Carlos is a story of love and devotion conflicting with political and religious upheaval. Lost on a hunting expedition, Elisabeth de Valois runs into the young Prince of Spain, Don Carlos. They immediately fall in love, and are delighted to find out that they are actually betrothed. Their happiness is not to last, and with the end of the war comes the end of their relationship: Elisabeth has been promised as bride to King Philippe, Carlos’s father, and must fulfill her duty to keep the peace.
Looking for solace in his distress, Carlos visits the grave of his grandfather, Charles V, in the local monastery. It is here that he makes an alliance with the Marquis of Posa, Rodrigue, a friendship which will prove to be of vital importance in both men’s lives. Rodrigue tells Carlos to take up the fight for peace in Flanders to take himself away from this woman, but when Carlos asks for this duty from the king, he is refused.
The King’s mistress, the Princess Eboli makes advances on Carlos and when they are rejected, she betrays his love of Elisabeth to the King. He is sent to prison and, in an incredible duet for two bass voices, King Philippe asks The Grand Inquisitor for guidance on how to deal with his son. It is decided, Carlos is to be executed and the day has been appointed. Eboli and Elisabeth help Carlos to escape, but they are found out and he is captured again by the Inquisitor’s men. Before he is able to fight or make a get away the ghostly voice of his grandfather Charles V, is heard. The tomb where he was laid to rest opens and a ghostly arm drags Don Carlos into the afterlife.
Against the backdrop of the brutal torturing and executions performed by the Spanish Inquisition, which they used to rapidly convert ‘heretics’ to Catholicism, this powerful story of intense love, and immense loss has remained popular, in its many forms, since it was first performed in 1867, and remains a strong contender in the operatic canon.