Don Carlos: The Opera that Will Move You

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


If you’re looking for an opera that will move you, look no further than Don Carlos. This classic opera tells the story of love, betrayal, and revenge, and features some of the most beautiful music ever composed. With its stirring melodies and powerful emotions, Don Carlos is an opera that you’ll never forget.


Don Carlos is an opera in five acts by Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was originally written in French by Joseph Mery and Camille du Locle, based on the play Don Carlos, Infante de España by Friedrich Schiller. However, Verdi’s publisher, Giulio Ricordi, persuaded the composer to set the work in Italian, and it was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on March 11, 1867.

The story is based on events during the middle of the 16th century, when Spain was ruled by Philip II. It revolves around the conflict between Philip’s son Don Carlos and his father over the former’s relationship with Elisabeth de Valois. The original French version of the opera contained a graphic account of Philip’s methods of torture, which caused it to be censored when it was first performed in Italy. However, the work has since been revived in its original form and is now widely considered to be one of Verdi’s most powerful works.

What is Don Carlos?

Don Carlos is an opera in five acts by Giuseppe Verdi. The story is based on the life of Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias, who was heir to the Spanish throne in the 16th century. The opera was first performed in 1867 and has been a staple of the operatic repertoire ever since.

Don Carlos is known for its dramatic approach to the story and its use of grandiose spectacle. The opera features some of Verdi’s most memorable music, including the famous “Grand March” and the moving duet between Don Carlos and Elisabeth de Valois, ” Tu che le vanità.”

The Characters

The main characters in Don Carlos are:

Don Carlos – The Infante (Prince) of Spain, who is in love with Elisabeth de Valois. He is a good and noble man, but his love for Elisabeth makes him jealous and suspicious.

Elisabeth de Valois – The Princess of France, who is married to Don Carlos. She is in love with Don Carlos, but she is also attracted to the Duke of Alba.

Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – A Spanish nobleman who is friends with both Don Carlos and King Philip II. He is a patriot who wants Spain to be free from the tyranny of Philip’s rule. Rodrigo is in love with Elisabeth, but he hides his feelings from her.

King Philip II – The King of Spain who is married to Elisabeth de Valois. He is a cold and ruthless ruler who suspects everyone around him of treason.

The Plot

Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, falls in love with Elisabeth de Valois, who is to marry his father. When Carlos’s grandfather, Emperor Charles V, retires, Carlos’s father Philip II becomes king. FleeingCarlos’s father’s court in order to avoid his arranged marriage to Elisabeth (who now loves don Carlos), Princess Eboli takes refuge with the Count of Lerma.

Elisabeth de Valois sets eyes on Don Carlos for the first time since their childhood and they feel an immediate mutual attraction. Don Carlos tells his friend Rodrigue that he intends to woo Elisabeth, even though she is betrothed to his father and will become his stepmother after the wedding. Rodrigue is secretly in love with Princess Eboli and tries unsuccessfully to dissuade Don Carlos from pursuing Elisabeth.

The King raids the monastery where don Carlos has taken refuge and arrests him. During his imprisonment, don Carlos has a vision of his dead grandfather; when he wakes up, he finds that the prison cell has mysteriously changed places with his room in the palace. The Marquis of Posa visits Carlos in prison and urges him to flee Spain; however, don Carlos refuses to leave without first speaking with Elisabeth.

Eboli flirts with the King during a hunting party but he rebuffs her advances. She seeks revenge by revealing to the King that it was she – not Elisabeth – who was seen visiting don Carlos in prison. Angered by this apparent proof of infidelity, Philip orders Elisabeth back to France and imprisons don Carlos again without trial.

The King summons Princess Eboli to his study; while she is there, he takes a jewel box from a locked cupboard and shows her its contents: a portrait of Queen Marie Louise (Eboli’s predecessor) hidden behind a black veil. He tells her that Marie Louise loved another man and suggests that Eboli do likewise – but she must never look beneath the veil or speak of what she sees there. Princess Eboli agrees but cannot resist looking at the portrait once she is alone; when she lifts the veil, she sees her own face staring back at her from within the frame.

The auto-da-fé scene takes place outside Seville Cathedral: heretics are burned at the stake while priests read out condemnations of their beliefs. Among those condemned is Rodrigue’s friend FraIRimaldo (who has been secretly helping Muslims), while another heretic – Jerome – renounces his beliefs and is spared execution.

As part of Philip’s plan to crush rebels who are fighting against Moorishrule in Granada, Posa persuades him to allow Spanish troops topass through Flanders on their way south.

Jerome visits Posa’s home; as they talk, they hear gunfire outside: troops loyalto Philip have attacked Posa’s household after mistaking them forrebels.

Don Carlo arrives too late: Posa has been mortally wounded.

Elisabeth has been confinedto a convent by order of her brother-in-law King Henri II of France; as sheprays for release from her captivity, she hears gunfire outside: troopsloyal to Philip have attacked the convent after mistaking it for arebel stronghold.

Princess Eboli visits Jerome in prison; Jerome tells her that Rodrigue hashad him arrested so that he can take custody of some incriminating paperswhich Jerome was going to giveto Posa.

A remorseful Princess Eboli visitsElisabeth in her cell at the convent; as they talk they hear gunfireoutside: troops loyalto Philip have attackedthe convent after mistakingit for a rebel stronghold.

Don Carlo arrives too late:Posa has been mortally woundedand Elisabeth has disappeared amidthe confusion.

In Seville Cathedral Philip preparesfor Mass; as he prays atthe tomb of Charles V he sees acryptic message appear onthe marble floor before him: “We must all liveenviousof death”.

He asksif anyone knows itsmeaning but no one can help him.

Later that nightphilip visitsjeromein prison; jerometells him about posa’spapers but refuses

To hand them over until philipagrees To grant amnesty

To all political prisoners.

Meanwhile elizabethhas escapedfrom confinementand takenrefuge inside sevillecathedral.

The Music

The music of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos was composed in 1865-66, and was first performed on March 11, 1867, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Verdi set the opera in Spain during the years 1560-1568, mostly during the reign of Philip II. The action moves between the royal palace at Madrid and the monastery of San Esteban near Toledo. There are five main characters in the opera: Don Carlos, Infante of Spain; Elizabeth of Valois, his fiancée and later wife; Princess Eboli, her lady-in-waiting; Posa, a Spanish grandee and friend of Carlos; and Philip II, King of Spain and widower of Elizabeth’s mother.

The first two acts take place at the royal palace in Madrid. In the opening scene we meet Princess Eboli, who is reading a letter from Carlos asking her to be his secret love. She agrees but warns him that his father is watching them both closely. Meanwhile, in another part of the palace, Philip is meeting with Posa, who has come to plead for the life of Flemish rebel leader Count Egmont. Posa leaves and Elizabeth comes in to say goodbye to Philip before she goes on a pilgrimage to Aix-la-Chapelle. She tells him that she still loves him although their marriage has not been a happy one.

The next scene takes us to the monastery of San Esteban near Toledo, where we find Don Carlos waiting for Elizabeth’s return from her pilgrimage. He is sad because he has not seen her for many months and fears that she has forgotten him. When she does arrive they are both overjoyed and declare their undying love for each other. However, their happiness is short-lived as news arrives that Philip has arranged for Elizabeth to marry his son instead!

The third act opens at the royal palace with a magnificent ball in honor of Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding to Don Carlos. However, the mood changes when Eboli tells Elizabeth that she has seen her husband kissing another woman – none other than Princess Eboli herself! In reality, Carlos was trying to comfort Eboli after she had been ostracized by Philip for being indiscreet about court secrets but Elizabeth does not know this and she is furious. Left alone with just Posa for company, Carlos confides in him that he plans to escape from Spain with Elizabeth so that they can be together forever.

In Act Four we return to San Esteban monastery where we find an agitated Philip pacing up and down waiting for news from Toledo where Egmont has been leading a revolt against Spanish rule. When Posa arrives he brings bad news – Egmont has been killed in battle! Furious at what he sees as Posa’s betrayal, Philip orders his arrest but Posa manages to escape. As he leaves he encounters Carlos who encourages him to continue his fight for liberty even though it may cost him his life.

The final act takes place back at the royal palace where we find an anguished Philip mourning over Egmont’s body (which has been brought there by rebels). As he broods over his own mortality he hears cries coming from inside the palace – it is Elizabeth who has gone mad after learning of Posa’s death! She mistakes her husband for Posa until Carlos appears and she realizes her error – but it is too late, she dies in his arms

The Reception

The opera was first performed in Paris in 1867, and was not well received. The public had been expecting another grand opera in the style of Verdi’s previous works, and Don Carlos did not meet these expectations. The reception was so negative that Verdi had to remove several sections of the opera before it could be staged again. Despite this, the opera has gone on to become one of Verdi’s most popular works.


The story of Don Carlos is a tragedy, but it is also a story of love, hope, and forgiveness. Though the opera is over four hours long, it is well worth the time, and you will be moved by the beauty of the music and the power of the story.

Similar Posts