It has often been suggested that a renewed fascination with Verdi’s Don Carlos coincided with the advent of Regieoper (or radically revisionist staging) in Germany over the past few decades. However, Don Carlos already counted among the most frequently revived operas in German-language theatres during the first half of the twentieth century. This article argues that neglect of this rich performance tradition is linked both to a German-centred narrative of the history of operatic production, which constructs the 1930s and 1940s as a gap in the development of ‘avant-garde’ direction, and to an over-emphasis on the visual side in recent academic discourse on operatic staging. These attitudes are challenged by a close look at selected German productions of Don Carlos from the 1920s to 1940s. Treatment of the opera's most difficult scenes – the mystical elements of the auto-da-fé finale and the dénouement – reveals striking continuities between the Weimar and Nazi eras, as well as conceptual affinities to some of the most acclaimed recent stagings. These findings call for a more historically grounded approach to operatic production.