In Verdi’s gigantic, five-hour-long opera “Don Carlo,” two female characters go on a trip that is without precedent among Verdi’s other 27 operas. There are no witches in this area. Courtesans should not be allowed if they have a persistent cough. There were just two historical figures involved in the love triangle that shook 16th-century Spain.
The Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen will make her role debut as Elisabeth of Valois in the Royal Opera’s revival of Nicholas Hytner’s 2008 production (running for six performances from June 30 to July 15). This is an opportunity for her and the Russian mezzo-soprano Yulia Matochkina to explore two of Verdi’s most nuanced and three-dimensional female roles.
From the duet between Carlo and Rodrigo, one of the most cherished tenor-baritone duets in opera, to the Grand Inquisitor’s legendary bass, which gives the opera a frightening tone, the male characters typically take front stage. However, many listeners feel that the ladies in Verdi’s operas are the ones that drive the plot and provide some of the most complex characters ever written.
Part of the thrill for both vocalists is recreating a historical scene, however fictionalised Schiller, Verdi, and his librettist may have made it. According to Ms. Davidsen, she can relate to Elisabeth’s plight of having to choose between the prince she loves and the king she must marry.
Ms. Matochkina finds the role of Princess Eboli as the perfect showcase for her voice and acting skills, and she believes it reflects Verdi’s dedication to his characters.
The ultimate themes of “Don Carlo” are love and the limits of devotion to God and the throne. Instead of being a narrative set over 500 years ago, it’s about how history is continuous.