Friday, June 15, 2012

Verdi's Ernani, Less IS More

The opera Ernani of 1844 finds the young Giuseppe Verdi (he's about thirty-one) in the midst of a series of transformations that will lead to his middle period with its' astonishing successes and discovery of his "true style."

The initial arrangement, that finds him writing for the intimate La Fenice in Venice as opposed to the vast stage of Milan's La Scala, is part of an intention to probe more deeply the idea of character. He has his reasons which include a handsome fee, a rejection of the tradition of the house dictating subject and librettist and finally the shaping of a new style where he shorns away the drama of vast choruses and pursues a complex intimate drama of characters in perpetual evolution. The result is a kaleidoscopic work of great emotional and musical complexity and richness. Finally in a struggle with singers and management Verdi even changes the tradition (going back to the baroque world of Handel) of the hero as a trousers role; our contralto becomes the modern tenor ! So great were Verdi's changes that Victor Hugo was outraged that his work had been altered beyond all recognition.

The opera's four acts are dense and swift. It begins in the mountains where Ernani lives the outlaw's life; the future King has murdered his father and now Ernani swears revenge. His men sing of their allegiance. Then we are in the De Silva castle.The older noble intends to force a marriage on Ernani's beloved Elvira and she gives us the powerful and now famous Ernani, Involami :
                                                          Ernani ! Ernani , involami
                                                            all'abborrito amplesso.
                                                     Ernani ! Ernani, carry me away
                                                       from that abhorred embrace 
                                                                        Let us fly ...

In a breathless sequence of events Ernani and De Silva become enemies and rivals for Elvira.Then the future King, Don Carlo appears a second and more dangerous rival. Elvira threatens suicide rather than wed another. Then the King demands Ernani from De Silva, who refuses insisting on the observation of the rules of hospitality. De Silva discovers that the King loves and threatens to abduct his bride to be. The matrix changes again, incredibly, as Ernani and De Silva strike an alliance and swear a portentous oath. De Silva may kill Ernani whenever he wishes, by the blowing of a horn, after he has murdered the King in revenge of his family honor. As the mad sequence progresses with his ascension to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, Carlo the King undergoes a change of character. He now agrees to the marriage of his one time rival and proposed assassin. Now Ernani has all he wishes but in violation of his earlier oath as his bride to be dreams of their future happiness ... 

Tune in for the surprising end of Verdi's Ernani, with a cast recorded live from the Met in 1962 including Carlo Bergonzi and Leontyne Price with Thomas Schippers conducting. That's Saturday at noon here on KPAC and KTXI. 

by Ron Moore

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