An Auto-da-fé (Act of faith) was a ritual act of penance carried out in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico during the 15th to the 19th centuries. Imposed on apostates and heretics by the Inquisition (a religious body) its punishments including being burned alive were executed by the state.

Two operas have an Auto-da-fé as part of their plots. One is intensely serious while the second and more recent depiction is comedic. Verdi’s Don Carlos was written for the Paris opera to a French text by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle. Originally in five acts, it was reduced to four in its Italian translation as Don Carlo. It was revised so many times that no definitive edition of it exists. Regardless, it is one of opera’s supreme achievements combining politics, religion, emotional turmoil, and the personal disintegration of its title character. No composer ever wrote a work for the lyric stage that has the complexity and inspiration that permeates Don Carlo. The Italian version, which iteration of it is up for grabs, is more frequently performed than that in the original French. Perhaps the monumentality of the work explains Verdi’s stated preference for his next opera Aida. Another grand work that makes less demands on an audience. It has proved the more popular of the two

The Auto-da-fé takes place in Act 2 scene 2 in the four act version. The following synopsis is from the Wikipedia article on the opera.

Preparations are being made for an auto-da-fé, the public parade and burning of condemned heretics. While the people celebrate, monks drag the condemned to the woodpile. A royal procession follows, and the King addresses the populace, promising to protect them with fire and sword. Don Carlos enters with six Flemish envoys, who plead with the King for their country’s freedom. Although the people and the court are sympathetic, the King, supported by the monks, orders his guards to arrest the envoys. Carlos demands that the King grant him authority to govern Flanders; the King scornfully refuses. Enraged, Carlos draws his sword against the King. The King calls for help but the guards will not attack Don Carlos. Posa realizes that actually attacking the King would be disastrous for Carlos. He steps forward and defuses the situation by taking Carlos’ sword from him. Carlos, astonished, yields to his friend without resisting. Relieved and grateful, the King raises Posa to the rank of Duke. The guards arrest Carlos, the monks fire the woodpile, and as the flames start to rise, a heavenly voice can be heard promising heavenly peace to the condemned souls.

In the video below Herbert von Karajan conducts a performance at Salzburg in 1986.

In 1956 Leonard Bernstein wrote an operetta based on Voltaire’s Candide. It has been more heavily revised than Don Carlos. Even the book was rewritten. It’s an interesting effort that’s worth an occasional audit. Clever and amusing, but little more.

In the public square of Lisbon (“Lisbon Fair”), the Infant Casmira, a deranged mystic in the caravan of an Arab conjuror, predicts dire happenings (“The Prediction”), leaving the public in terror (“Pray For Us”). Candide discovers Pangloss, who has contracted syphilis, yet remains optimistic (“Dear Boy”). The Inquisition appears, in the persons of two ancient Inquisitors and their lawyer, and many citizens are tried and sentenced to hang, including Candide and Dr. Pangloss (“The Inquisition: Auto-da-Fé”). Suddenly an earthquake occurs, apparently killing Dr. Pangloss, and Candide barely escapes.

In the video below the composer conducts a concert performance of the scene.