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Thread: OTF – Verdi’s Ernani

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  1. #1
    Senior Member Involved Member itywltmt's Avatar
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    Cool OTF – Verdi’s Ernani

    Today’s OTF post kills two birds with one stone in a way: it is part of the month-long look at some of the great artists we have lost this year on my many platforms, and is an interesting look at an “early” Verdi opera, one that cemented Giuseppe’s career as an opera composer and stood as his most beloved opera for nearly 10 years.

    According to the Verdi Wikipedia article, Verdi biographers typically divide Verdi's periods of composition into "Early", "Middle", and "Late". However, the operas written in the "Early" years begin with the third commission for La Scala, I Lombardi in 1843, and continue through Attila in 1843, Ernani in 1844, as well as his first adaptation of a Shakespeare play, Macbeth in 1847. This early period is typically regarded as ending with La battaglia di Legnano in 1848.

    The inception of Ernani came as part of a commission for two operas for the 1843–44 season (one of which would be I Lombardi) which came from the Teatro la Fenice in Venice. Amongst the many stipulations of this commission, Verdi demanded the right to choose his own subject, his own librettist, and also to pay him directly. Verdi further stipulated that he will begin to compose only when the libretto was completed to his satisfaction because 'when I have a general conception of the whole poem, the music comes of its own accord'. Working closely with his librettists and well aware that dramatic expression was his forte, he made certain that the initial work upon which the libretto was based was stripped of all "unnecessary" detail and "superfluous" participants, and only characters brimming with passion and scenes rich in drama remained.

    Once this agreement was settled upon, the next step was to choose a subject, something which took some time. Several subjects came to Verdi's attention: for example, Byron's The Corsair and an opera about the Venetian Foscari family. The timing and circumstances weren’t right at the timefor these subjects, though they would become Il corsaro and I due Foscari at some point in the future.

    After he and librettist Francesco Piave (who was La Fenice's resident poet and stage manager) had considered Victor Hugo’s play Cromwell as a potential subject, the libretto did not suit Verdi, and he engaged Piave to consider another Hugo play, his 1830 drama Hernani as an idea for a libretto.

    For Verdi, the appeal of Hugo's work – which the latter described as "Romanticism or the Liberalism in literature" – was "the struggle between love and honour". Piave – who had invested much effort in the earlier Cromwell-based libretto only to see it be set aside, felt that an opera based on Hernani could not be staged for reasons of censorship. However, the La Fenice directorate did approve the concept and the librettist was offered compensation for his rejected opus – which he kept handy as a “Plan B”.

    Due to some internal politicking, the role of Ernani had been planned for a contralto, something Verdi managed to rectify, as Verdi wished to stick as closely as possible to the original play "to reflect the unique character of the parent drama".

    Had Verdi not had his wish, maybe we never would have had a chance to hear one of the greatest voices in Italian Opera sing this title role – Carlo Bergonzi.

    Earlier this month, I posted some musings and a podcast dedicated to the great Italian tenor, who passed away this past July. I will not get into Bergonzi’s career un today’s post, rather I will let you visit my Bergonzi podcast, which is still available for another week or so on my Pod-O-Matic channel.


    Price, Bergonzi, and Schippers made an excellent “textually complete” recording of Ernani in a Rome studio in 1967. The 1962 Met broadcast performance I am featuring today takes the traditional cuts (about 25 minutes of music). I myself have not heard the RCA Studio recording, but some who have think this is better than the studio recording if only because it is an actual performance, with the tension and electricity naturally generated in a theater with an audience present. Critic Irving Kolodin wrote of this Met production, "Early Verdi has rarely sounded more verdant."
    Price and Bergonzi are superb in all respects, and one could not ask for a more unrelenting Silva than Giorgio Tozzi. The unexpected reward of the performance is the splendid Don Carlo of Cornell MacNeil. His voice is smooth, warm, and commanding when needed.

    When "Ernani" was premiered, Verdi was only 30. At the time of this Met production, Thomas Schippers was only 32, and he conducted this performance with appropriately youthful vigor, as well as complete authority.


    Giuseppe VERDI (1813 –1901)
    Ernani, dramma lirico in four acts (1844)
    Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Hernani by Victor Hugo.
    Carlo Bergonzi (Ernani)
    Leontyne Price (Elvira)
    Cornell MacNeil (Carlo)
    Giorgio Tozzi (Silva)
    Roald Reitan (Jago)

    Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Thomas Schippers (1962)

    Synopsis –
    Libretto -
    Performance Link (MQCD Musique Classique)-

  2. #2
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Clayton's Avatar
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    I never thought about the fact that he was only 30 years old when he composed this; quite brilliant.

    I have never heard the Met broadcast performance but I can say the Rome recording is also excellent. So many good recordings for such a powerful and brilliant piece.

    Name:  Ernani - Thomas Schippers RCA Studio 1967, Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Mario Sereni, Ezio Fl.jpg
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Size:  19.6 KB Name:  Ernani - Dimitri Mitropoulos 1957, Anita Cerquetti, Mario Del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Boris C.jpg
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    Name:  Ernani - Bonynge, Pavarotti, Sutherland, Nucci, Burchuladze.jpg
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