Ernani, Opera by G. Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi and Victor Hugo were near-contemporaries and shared a certain dramatic sensibility that proved to be a recipe for success. Ernani, the dramma lirico that helped establish Verdi’s name in the world of opera, is one example of this magic. The gripping work in four piping-hot acts premiered at Teatro La Fenice on 9 March 1844. It won many accolades, and it enjoys regular revivals to this day. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma brings this early Verdi gem to its stage this season.
The road that led Verdi to Hugo in this case was long and winding. Librettist Francesco Maria Piave tried his hand at a number of other stories before the creative duo settled on Hernani, the French playwright’s scandalous play about the escapades of the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V with a young girl whose hand was promised to one man and whose heart belonged to another. Ernani exemplifies Verdi’s total creative approach. The composer demanded a full libretto before he would commence with writing the score, and he played an active part in trimming down Hugo’s expansive dramatic text into a more manageable, four-act opera format.
Ernani features a classic love triangle. The titular character, a bandit with a complicated history, is in love with Elvira who has been promised to the obscenely older Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. The two men are about to battle it out when Don Carlo – the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V – suddenly appears and threatens to take Elvira for himself. The former rivals now have to join forces in order to salvage the woman whom they love from imprisonment and forced marriage. Along the way, Ernani reveals his true identity and makes a pledge to Silva that will have a shocking effect on the conflict’s ultimate resolution. How the lovers and fighters will resolve this complicated political and personal dramas remains for audiences at Teatro Costanzi in Rome to find out.