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AARRGGHH! A DIVA ROLE? AND OTHER RASCALS

I’M STREAMING VERDI’S Don Carlo as I write this. What with its complex historical theme, I’m foregoing my somnambulant practice of trusting subliminal awakening at the opera’s juicy parts. This one demands attention.

Image from Met On Demand.

Indeed, I read up on Don Carlo in Sir Denis Forman’s A Night at the Opera: An Irreverent Guide to the Plots, the Singers, the Composers, the Recordings, 1994. Forman describes this opera as “The one where a royal lady marries her fiancé’s father, where many heretics are burnt, and where a dead king exits his tomb to save a living relative.”

There’s also a character named Princess Éboli, a mezzo. I have this thing about mezzos.

The Real Princess Éboli. The Ancient Origins website describes her as “a rebel in an eyepatch and gown… It could be argued that her behavior was better suited to the 21st century than to the period in which she lived.”

Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda y de Silva Cifuentes, Princess of Éboli, Dutchess of Pastrana, 1540–1592, Spanish aristocrat, not unfamiliar with palace intrigue.

The House of Mendozas was a powerful family in sixteenth-century Spain. According to Wikipedia, by recommendation of the regent of Spain, the future King Philip II, she was married at age 13 to Rui Gomes da Silva, 1st Prince of Éboli. One of her friends was Isabel de Valois, Queen Consort of Spain. Even with her eyepatch, Ana was considered very attractive and prominent in Spanish court life.

She had ten children, the last in the year her husband died, 1573. Éboli then entered a convent, but only for three years. Then she formed an alliance with the king’s undersecretary of state, Antonio Pérez.

Antonio Pérez, 1534–1611, Spanish statesman, secretary of King Philip II of Spain, not unfamiliar with palace intrigue.

The pair was accused of betraying state secrets which led to their arrests in 1579. Éboli died in prison in 1592. Possessing compromising information against the king, Pérez was able to stall matters.

The Benefit of Compromising Papers. Pérez had mixed success with his incriminating evidence. In 1585, for example, he jumped out a window and sought church asylum. The king’s officers arrested him nonetheless.

What with Act IV, Scene 1, between Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor, this is a big deal in Verdi’s Don Carlo as well. (I haven’t got there yet with my streaming. Though, as I write this, here in Act III, Scene 2, there’s an auto-da-fé, what Forman calls “a really good fry-up of heretics.”)

Image from Opera News.

By contrast, church, state, and Pérez’s incriminating papers kept him out of stir, more or less, until a death sentence was pronounced in 1790. Pérez squirmed out of this one too, but then Philip II had a brilliant idea: Team up with the Inquisitor and accuse Pérez of heresy.

A Happy Ending, Sort Of. Pérez hightailed it across the Pyrenees into the Kingdom of Bearn-Navarre. Wikipedia says, “He spent the rest of his life trying to make a living off the sale of the secrets he knew, but he failed to make an impression on Queen Elizabeth I and her chief minister William Cecil.”

However, he might have inspired the preposterous Spaniard Don Armado in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, c. 1597. Pérez died in Paris in 1611.

Éboli’s Eyepatch. Back to Princess Éboli and her eyepatch. It’s possible Ana was born blind in her right eye; it’s possible she might have lost the eye in youth. A portrait at age 14 shows the eyepatch.

Ana as a young girl. Image from ngasanova.

The Ancient History website offers modern ophthalmological assessments based on studies of Éboli’s life and portraits: “According to their results, Ana’s right brow ridge is smaller and lower than her left one. This suggests that she likely experienced trauma which caused problems with her eyeball and facial bones…. Moreover, according to the doctors, it seems that Ana did not suffer from any chronic inflammation or infection, so trauma is more probable.”

In the Met’s production, Anna Smirnova sings the Princess Éboli role sans eyepatch. What with father and son loving the same woman, best friends at odds, the dead rising, church and state, and all the rest, maybe the Met decided there’s enough complication in Don Carlo without the eyepatch as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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