Don Carlos / Auto-da-fe

I guess I had this coming, but I woke up this morning with the chorus from the ‘auto-da-fe’ scene from Don Carlos in my head.

This production of Don Carlos has solved a performing problem in an interesting way. The ‘celestial voice’ in this scene is supposed to sound shimmering and celestial and otherworldly, but it doesn’t always because, well, they tend not to hire the big names to sing such a short part. Here they have the Voice be obviously a performance – obviously a sham. And it works, in that it makes the horror of what the crown and the church are doing more stark. Normally the celestial voice functions as a suggestion that despite the awful death, the men who die here are on their way to heaven. In this case, the fact that the voice is part of the auto-da-fe — it’s ‘staged’ within the story — turns it into an effort at spin or manipulation on the part of the people staging the execution. The fact that the voice doesn’t sound celestial is the point.

Also, this is one of those stagings that involve the audience in the scene – they are the ‘audience’ for the auto-da-fe in a way that the theater audience is normally not. Whether the audience likes this is an open question. (It reminds me of Sellars in Giulio Cesare using the way Cleopatra interacts with the viewer to draw a parallel between the audience and Cesare/the United States.)