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Giuseppe Verdi


Verdi - Ernani (1982; La Scala)

Ernani - Plácido Domingo
Donna Elvira - Mirella Freni
Don Carlo - Renato Bruson
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva - Nicolai Ghiaurov

Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan
Conductor - Riccardo Muti

Ernani was Verdi's fifth opera. With his third and fourth, Nabucco and I Lombardi, he had established himself in Italy as one of the foremost working opera composers, second perhaps only to Donizetti, for Bellini had died almost ten years before and Rossini had stopped composing operas even earlier. With Ernani, Verdi's fame crossed the Alps; and though many northern connoisseurs found (he score shocking—"brutal" was a favorite word—its sheer emotional power swept all before it.

Furthennore, it represented another victory for the romantic movement on the stage. Victor Hugo, on whose play the Kbretto is based, was one of the great leaders in this movement, along with Schffler and Dumas. Hugo and Schffler furnished forth the materials for many a successful opera; only Donizetti ever had any luck with a Dumas play, and this one effort (Gemma di Vergy, based on Charles VII) is now completely forgotten.

Today Hugo's Hernani is still read in French schools, but it seems absurdly artificial and incredible anywhere else. The libretto for the opera is, of course, even worse in these respects. Hugo himself objected strongly to the liberties taken with his play. Yet the power of a few of the arias and concerted pieces (Ernani! involami, Infeticef, О sommo Carlo, and a few others) kept the work in the standard repertoire for over a century; it is still often given in Italy; it is periodically revived in otber lands; and individual nmnbers from it are sung wherever opera stars do congregate.


Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto in Italian by Francesco Maria Piave,
based on Victor Hugo's tragedy Hernani

DON CARLOS, King of Castile
, grandee of Spain
ERNANI, or John of Aragon, a bandit chief
, ward of Silva


Time: 1520

Place: Spain and France

First performance at Venice, March 9, 1844


Don Carlos : Baritone. King Carlo V of Spain, he is passionately in love with Elvira, who is also loved both by her guardian Silva and by Ernani, whom the King outlawed after he had ordered the slaying of Ernani's father. Elvira refuses to elope with the King, who decides to arrest Ernani. He is helped to escape. When Carlo is elected Emperor, he forgives Ernani for plotting against him and agrees to the marriage of Ernani and Elvira. Aria: Vieni meco, sol di rose...(‘Come with me, a brighter dawning awaits thee'). Created (1844) by Antonio Superchi.

Mario Sereni - Verdi - Ernani - Act II - Vieni meco, sol di rose

Don Ruy Gomes di Silva : Bass. A grandee of Spain, guardian of Elvira, whom he wants to marry, even though she loves the outlawed Ernani and is also loved by the King. Finding her embracing Ernani, he challenges him to a duel, which Ernani refuses, promising Silva his life as forfeit, after he has avenged his father's death by killing the King. Silva receives a horn from Ernani—if he sounds it, it will signal his desire for Ernani's death. Don Carlos is declared Emperor and consents to Ernani and Elvira's marriage. At the celebrations, Silva wreaks revenge for his thwarted ambition to marry Elvira himself. He sounds the horn call (possibly an early use by Verdi of Leitmotif which was soon to become Wagner's trademark). Created (1844) by Antonio Selva.

ERNANI - Final Trio (Domingo - Freni - Ghiaurov)

Elvira :  Soprano. Ward of the old grandee, Silva, who wants to marry her. She is also loved by Don Carlos, King of Spain, and by Ernani, whom the king outlawed. As her wedding to Silva is planned, Ernani breaks in, hoping to abduct her. Caught by Silva, he refuses a duel, but promises his life in forfeit if Silva ever wants it. Carlo is elected Emperor, forgives Ernani and consents to Ernani and Elvira's wedding. After the ceremony, Silva wreaks his revenge and Elvira throws herself on to Ernani's body. Aria: Ernani! Ernani! involami (‘Ernani! Ernani! fly away with me’). Created (1844) by Sofia Loewe (Loevve) (who caused havoc by instructing the librettist to write a special aria with which she could close the opera, as she didn't approve of ending with a trio. Verdi stuck to his guns. At the premiére, she apparently sang flat the whole evening). The character on whom Elvira is based, Doña Sol in Victor Hugo's Hernani, was one of Sarah Bernhardt's greatest roles. 

Anna Moffo, singing "Ernani, involami" from Verdi's Ernani.

ErnaniTenor. John of Aragon, whose father, the Duke of Segovia, was killed on the orders of the King of Spain, father of the present king, Don Carlo. Ernani has been outlawed by Carlo and has become the leader of a group of bandits. They plan to kidnap Elvira, ward of Silva, with whom Emani is in love. Silva is planning to marry her himself. When Carlo is declared Emperor, he forgives Ernani for plotting against him and consents to the marriage of Ernani and Elvira. While the nuptials are being celebrated,Silva, jealous and frustrated at not winning Elvira as his own bride, calls for Emani’s death. Rather than be killed, Ernani takes the sword which Silva offers him and stabs himself. Aria: Come rugiada al cespite ('Like dew to the drooping bud'); duet (with Elvira): Ah, morir potessi adesso ('Ah, to die would be a blessing'). Created (1844) by Carlo Guasco.

From Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani, Placido Domingo sings Aria and Cavaletta "Come rugiada al cespite...O tu che l'alma adora, vien!"


Scene from Verdi's Ernani, circa 1895 - Victoria and Albert Museum

Act I

Scene 1  Ernani, the hero of the opera, is really John of Aragon, son of the Duke of Segovia, who has been slain by order of the fonner King of Castile. That is why John has changed his name to Emani and taken up the semi-respectable operatic trade of bandit chief. In his mountain camp, not far from the casfle of Don Ruy Gomez di Silva, his followers open the opera with a annkmg chorus. Theii leader then obliges with a song in praise of his beloved Elvira (Come rugiada al cespite); his followers assure him that they will collaborate in his plans to carry off the lady; and they all depart in force toward the castle.

Scene 2 Now, this lovely Elvira is a relative of the owner of the castle, and also his ward. A gray-haired basso, he is in love with the young girl, and plans are already afoot for the wedding. Elvira herself, however, is in love with Ernani, and she compares him with her guardian Silva as she sits alone in her room and sings the most famous aria in the opera (Ernani! involami - Ernani! fly with me). When a chorus of maidens arrives to congratulate her on the approaching nuptials, she responds graciously, though in an aside she reminds us that it is Ernani she really loves.

Poor Elvira has the misfortune to be loved, not merely by her unwanted fiance, but also by the present King of Castile himself, known as Don Carlos. As soon as the girls have left, be makes bis appearance in the chamber, having got into the place by a complicated ruse I shall not bother here to go into. Elvira protests against this unwarranted invasion of her privacy, and the ensuing duet has scarcely ended when Ernani appears through a secret panel. Elvira manages to avert bloodshed by snatching a dagger from Carlos, when Silva (entering reasonably enough through a door) embarrasses everyone by joining the party. He expresses his own sentiments in a particularly fine aria (Infelicel e tu credevi—"All unhappy, I believed you"). Then, when the group is further joined by a large number of members of the household, Carlos tells Silva who he really is; Silva acknowledges his liege lord; and in the final ensemble Ernani is permitted to depart unscathed.

Scene from Verdi's Ernani, circa 1895 - Victoria and Albert Museum


In the grand hall of the castle Elvira is preparing for her marriage to Silva, and the chorus of maidens again sings a congratulatory strain. Elvira believes that Ernani has been captured and killed by the King's forces; but the real fact is that he has escaped, disguised himself as a monk, and come to Silva’s castle for refuge. It is only when Elvira enters in her bridal gown that he realizes what prospective ceremony he has accidentally come upon- He immediately tears off his disguise and offers Silva a wedding gift - his own life. Let him, he suggests, be turned over to Carlos for execution. But Silva is a Spanish grandee, bound by the laws of hospitality, and he nobly refuses to endanger the life of any guest of his. Fearing that his other rival, the King, may be planning a forced entry, he decides to defend his castle, leaving the two lovers alone for a sad, impassioned duet (Ah, morir potessi adesso - "Ah, to die would be a blessing"). When Silva returns to find the lovers making love, his anger is interrupted by the news that the King's men are at the gates. He orders them to be admitted, but, still true to the laws of hospitality, he hides his own worst enemy from the pursuers. Even when the King himself demands that Silva give up Ernani, the old gentleman stoutly refuses. Carlos demands Silva's sword and threatens him with execution, but the lovely Elvira interposes, and the King compromises by taking her as a sort of hostage to ensure Silva's loyalty.

With the rest gone, Silva releases Ernani from his hiding place, offers him a sword, and suggests a dud. But Ernani is also a noble Renaissance Spaniard. He refuses to turn on the host who saved his life and instead suggests that they combine forces to get Elvira away from die untrustworthy Carlos. Then, after they have succeeded, all Silva need do to get his revenge on Ernani is to blow the horn that he bands mm and, no matter where he may be or what be may be doing, Ernani binds himself to take bis own life. Silva agrees to this fantastic bargain (in his innocence be had not even suspected that the King might have fell designs on his ward and fiancee), and he orders ins men to ride.

Scene from Verdi's Ernani, circa 1895 - Victoria and Albert Museum


In an opera replete with incredible meetings Ae most incredible of all turns out to be the most dramatic as well. The conspirators against the King have decided to hold their meeting in the vault of the cathedral at Aix la Chapelle, which contains the tomb of Charlemagne, Don Carlos's most famous ancestor. Carlos, however, has got wind of this meeting, and he opens the act with a solemn soliloquy that only partially prepares us for bis subsequent complete change of character (Oh, de verd anni miei—"Oh, of my youthful years"). He thereupon steps into the tomb itself to overbear what goes on.

The conspirators gather, sing an exciting male chorus (Si ridesti), and decide that the King must be murdered. They then choose, by lot, who shall commit the murder» and Ernani's name comes up. But outside there is the booming of cannon. The King steps solemnly forth from the tomb (suggesting to the conspirators that it is Cbarlemagne himself who has been eavesdropping) and strikes three times with his dagger upon the bronze doors of the vault. That booming of cannon meant that Carlos had been elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire; and so, to the music of trumpets, the electors enter in procession, followed by soldiers and pages bearing the imperial insignia, torches, the imperial banners, and all the other objects of glory that the opera company can afford. Elvira, of course, is also an invited guest.

Everyone pays homage to the newly elected Emperor Charles V, and he begins his reign by disposing of the conspiracy he has overheard: the noble leaders are to be beheaded, the common herd is to be imprisoned. Ernani, never one to forgo a chance to die conspicuously, steps forward and claims his right, as John of Aragon, to die with the best of them. Elvira, however, once again assumes her role of anger, allayer, and pleads so eloquently for Ernani that Emperor Charles is persuaded to begin his reign with an act of genuine clemency. Not only does he pardon all the conspirators; he restores Ernani to his tides and lands and blesses his union with Elvira. The utterly preposterous scene ends with a truly magnificent concerted number—О sommo Carlo!

Scene from Verdi's Ernani, circa 1895 - Victoria and Albert Museum


And now the happy couple have been wedded and they are enjoying the briefest of marriages in a duet on the terrace of Ernani's castle in Aragon.

But Silva has not forgotten his agreement He sounds the dread horn, and Ernani, waiting for only one more tenor aria, accepts his fate.

Silva offers him a choice of poison or dagger; Ernani chooses thе dagger; he stabs himself; and at the close of a most effective trio Elvira falls on her husband's body.

Some musical numbers

Luciano Pavarotti - Odi il voto... (G.Verdi - Ernani)

Luciano Pavarotti / Verdi / Ernani 1983 Father, I avenge your murder at last!

Luciano Pavarotti / Verdi / Ernani / Mercé diletti amici 1983

Da quel Di che t'ho veduta - Tu se' Ernani! Angela Meade, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Marcello Giordani

Ernani: Act 2 - "Ah morir potessi adesso"

Montserrat Caballé: Verdi - Ernani - 'Ernani, Ernani, involami... Tutto sprezzo che d'Ernani'

Verdi, Ernani - O sommo Carlo - Mario Sereni, baritono

Hvorostovsky - Gran' Dio!... Oh, de'verd'anni miei (Verdi: Ernani)

ERNANI - Oh de' verd'anni miei (Renato Bruson)

Infelice! E tuo credevi - Nicolai Ghiaurov (Ernani)

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