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Profound and Perplexing: Verdi's 'Don Carlo'

Remember the classic song "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered?" Its title might also serve as a sobriquet for Don Carlo, one of the most enigmatic, yet profoundly beautiful operas Giuseppe Verdi ever composed.

The story takes place in the mid-1500s, at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and it's loosely based on historical characters and events. The title character is the son of Spain's King Phillip II, and he is clearly both bewitched and bothered — his real life counterpart was sometimes described as simply insane.

As for bewildered, that's how audiences sometimes feel at the end of the opera. The drama has a complicated plot, weaving together any number of personal, political and theological conflicts, and wrapping them all up in a climactic ending which can easily leave opera-goers wondering what the heck just happened.

Still, in typical fashion, Verdi took all of the story's complexities and confusions, and left us with a great opera. It's a work that takes just about every moral dilemma imaginable, and gives them all recognizable, human faces. And they're the sort of faces one sees every day — sometimes, even in the mirror.

It could be that Verdi's opera is bewildering because, deep down, audiences hesitate to acknowledge its messages, disturbed by the drama's vivid glimpse of how the world really is, and who we really are.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a performance of Don Carlo from one of opera's most prestigious venues, London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The stars are tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, with soprano Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabeth and baritone Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo, in a production led by conductor Semyon Bychkov.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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