September 02, 2022

Get to know: Verdi's Ernani

There's nothing like rip-roaring early Verdi to set an opera house ablaze with excitement! Think of Ernani, which took the Venice audience by storm at its 1844 premiere. Ever since, this hot-blooded work has been enthralling operagoers with its glorious arias, powerfully dramatic ensembles, and massive choruses.

In Act One of Verdi's Ernani, Silva discovers Carlo — the King of Spain— and the nobleman-turned-outlaw Ernani as they are about to duel in Elvira's bedroom.

Based on a play by the king of 19th-century French literature, Victor Hugo, Ernani brings us not a love triangle but a quadrangle. The story unfolds in 16th-century Spain, where Ernani, a wronged nobleman, is an outlaw bent on revenge after the king, Carlo, murders Ernani's father. Ernani's planning to abduct Elvira, the woman he loves. She returns his love, but they've got serious problems: the king loves Elvira, too, and her much older uncle, Silva, is actually planning to marry her himself! The intrigue continues through each of the opera's four acts, pitting strong-willed men against each other in their desire for the same woman.

In Ernani you can expect the beauty and emotion we all crave in Italian opera. The thrills begin with the very first scene, where Ernani introduces himself in music that bursts with heroic-tenor machismo. Elvira's aria is one of the most spectacular showpieces Verdi ever gave a leading lady. When Silva discovers Elvira alone with both Ernani and the king, his reveals his sadness and disappointment in a majestically beautiful aria that every bass and bass-baritone longs to sing. As for King Carlo himself, he gets two magnificent arias in which the baritone can give his all in phrases that glow and soar.

In Act Three, Carlo  who has just been elected the next Holy Roman Emperor   pardons the men who conspired to kill him and agrees to the marriage of Ernani and Elvira.

Ernani isn't often performed very often because the music is enormously challenging. The leading quartet of singers should all boast the ultimate in warm, sumptuously beautiful sound, first and foremost. Beyond that, Verdi asks them for fabulous technical prowess, huge range, and terrific expressiveness. They also need dazzling charisma, so they can truly take the stage with the imposing presence that Verdi demands.

In no opera house today will you find a cast to surpass the renowned Verdians who will sing the principal roles in Chicago. We can take pride in the fact that they're all Americans, each a major star currently enjoying a stupendously successful international career. They've all triumphed at Lyric in some of the most formidable Verdi roles: Russell Thomas (Ernani) and Tamara Wilson (Elvira), magnificent as the lovers in Il Trovatore; Quinn Kelsey (Carlo), unforgettable as Rigoletto, among many other Verdi portrayals for the company; and Christian Van Horn, recently a grandiose Count Walter in Luisa Miller and Banco in Macbeth.

Finally wed, Ernani and Elvira celebrate their good fortune, unaware that their happy ending will be short-lived.

With any Verdi opera, a great conductor nees to be in charge. Lyric has just the person for the job in music director Enrique Mazzola. On the podium he'll demonstrate once again his passionate commitment to bringing early Verdi the stylistic authority and flair it deserves. Louisa Muller's perceptive stage direction and Scott Marr's luxurious sets and costumes will add luster to one of the most memorable productions Verdi fans have ever enjoyed at Lyric!

September 9 - October 1, 2022



The 2022/23 Season opens with a thrilling continuation of Lyric's acclaimed early Verdi series. Ernani reveals Verdi at his most irresistibly melodic and dramatic. A persecuted nobleman forced to disguise himself as an outlaw, Ernani loves beautiful Elvira, but she's pursued by two other men — her uncle, Silva, and the King of Spain, Carlo. This "love quadrangle" inspires grand-scale arias and ensembles, bursting with the unique energy and drive that were Verdi's own. Music Director Enrique Mazzola leads a quartet of world-renowned Verdians in Lyric's sumptuously beautiful production that is designed to bring you an exhilarating operatic experience.

Header photo: In Act Two of Verdi's Ernani, Elvira (Sondra Radvanovsky) prepares for an unwanted marriage to her uncle, Silva. Photo: Steve Leonard, 2009/10

Photos: Dan Rest, Valerie Bromann