When people ask me which opera I would take with me to a desert island if I could only take one (I’ve really been asked that), I always say it would be Don Carlos, by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) — but all seven versions.
On a visit to Strasbourg in 2006 I saw the five-act French version, with the American tenor Andrew Richards in the title role. I have also seen a five-act Italian version in Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, a four-act Italian version in Braunschweig, Geneva, Dresden and Milan, and a German translation (or re-translation) in Dessau.
The opera Don Carlos (or Don Carlo in Italian) is based on a classic German play by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Don Carlos is a Spanish prince who falls in love with a French princess, but for reasons of state she is forced to marry someone else — Don Carlo’s own father, the King of Spain.
In the five-act versions, the first act takes place in the Forest of Fontainebleau, France, where the prince and princess meet and fall in love, but their happiness lasts only a few minutes. A cannon sounds to announce the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries, and the rejoicing multitudes bring the news that Elisabeth is to marry the King of Spain, Philip II. 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.
The Théâtre Municipal in Strasbourg was first built in 1821. It was destroyed by bombs in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, but was reconstructed two years later, following the original plans. The National Opera of the Rhine performs here, and also in the nearby cities of Mulhouse and Colmar.
The performance I saw here was fine musically, but I’m afraid the staging didn’t work at all. I should have guessed that something was wrong because of the strange wording on their website: “Based on an original concept by Christoph Loy.” Since Loy is one of my favorite German stage directors, I had high hopes for the production, but apparently he had walked out on the first day of rehearsals (not at all typical for him), and somebody else had to take it over. (I still haven’t heard the whole story of this.)
Although the theater has been renovated and modernized several times, it basically retains its original 19th century style. The 1143 red plush seats have been reupholstered in recent years, but are still small and very close together. Evidently people really were smaller in the 19th century than they are today.
Tickets are expensive. I paid € 46.80 for a seat in the second gallery with only a partial view of the stage.
An unusual thing about this theater is that it has no cloakrooms, but at all levels there are numerous numbered coat hooks, one for each seat. I took this photo on the level of the second gallery.
Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on Operas in France (outside of Paris).