Love in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1559

My favorite thing about Fontainebleau is the music it inspired at the beginning of the five-act versions of the opera Don Carlos (in French) or Don Carlo (in Italian), by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

The Spanish prince Don Carlos, alone in the twilight in the wintry forest, sings:

Fontainebleau! Immense, lonely forest!
Could any gorgeous gardens, full of flowers and light,
replace this frozen earth for Don Carlos, happy here
where his smiling Elisabeth has passed by?
Leaving Spain and my father’s court,
risking Philip’s fearsome anger,
hidden among his ambassador’s staff,
I have managed to see her at last, my lovely betrothed,
who has for so long ruled in my thoughts,
and from now on will rule in my heart!

(There are numerous recordings of this. Placido Domingo, for instance, has recorded it twice, once in French and once in Italian.)

Fontainebleau Palace from the gardens

Elisabeth of Valois was the daughter of the French king. Don Carlos was the son of the Spanish king. In the opera they both have been given to understand that they will be married to each other, whether they like it or not, as a way of sealing the peace treaty that is being negotiated between the two countries.

At the beginning of the opera they meet in the forest of Fontainebleau in the winter of 1559 and immediately fall in love with each other, but their happiness lasts only a few minutes. A cannon sounds to announce the signing of the peace treaty, but the rejoicing multitudes bring the news that Elisabeth is to marry the King of Spain, Philip II, and not his son Don Carlos.

The two love-struck teenagers, Carlos and Elisabeth, are devastated by this news, since it means they will be living under the same roof at the Spanish Royal Palace, not as man and wife but as step-son and step-mother.

Verdi’s opera Don Carlo(s) was derived from the play Don Karlos by the German playwright Friedrich Schiller — a play that was based very loosely on historical events. Elisabeth of Valois really did marry the King of Spain in 1559 (as described by Melanie Clegg on her website Madame Guillotine), but the meeting and falling-in-love of the Spanish prince and the French princess in the Forest of Fontainebleau was a product of Schiller’s imagination.

Gardens of the palace of Fontainebleau

My photos in this post do not really show the Forest of Fontainebleau, just some trees in the gardens by the palace.

I was on my way to the forest (which completely surrounds the town), but then some dark storm clouds started gathering over the palace, so I turned back and decided to save the forest for some other year.

Fontainebleau Palace (Château) from across the pond

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on the composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

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