Dramma lirico in four acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
The bandit Ernani has lost his land, wealth, and title, and faces competing suitors, including the king, as he pursues his true love, Elvira. One of the greatest of Verdi’s early works encompasses love, honor, and tragedy with passionate choruses, emotional arias, and a stirring score.
March | 11 - March | 26
With Translations In:
Estimated Run Time:
2 hours , 48 minutes (including Intermissions)
Cast & Staff
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva
Mar 11, 14, 16, 18, 22, 26
Mar 11, 14, 16, 18, 22, 26
Hair & Make-Up Designer
In 1843, at the age of thirty, Verdi’s fame was primarily centered in Milan where each of his first four operas had premiered. Flush with his success, the young composer was ready to branch out and for his fifth opera he accepted a commission from Teatro La Fenice in Venice. It was the Director of Performance of that opera house who suggested the opera be based on Victor Hugo’s play Hernani.
With Hernani, Hugo had dared to break down the well-established and strict rules of French drama to create a play that was much more naturalistic and passionate than the norm. The premiere in Paris had caused several nights of rioting between the traditionalists and the devotees of the new ‘Romantic’ movement which became known as “The Battle of Hernani”. The heightened emotion on the stage intensified that of his devoted audience and the Romantic movement dominated, changing French drama forever.
Verdi’s response to the idea of transforming Hernani into an opera was decidedly enthusiastic. “Oh, if we could do Hernani! That would be something wonderful! The action is all there, and the interest is immense.”
The librettist chosen for the project was the young poet Francesco Maria Piave (with whom Verdi would later go on to create eleven more operas including La traviata and Rigoletto). This collaboration would be Piave’s first opera, and thus put the more experienced Verdi in a position of being able to demand all he wanted and needed from his librettist in order to create the vision he had for the work. “I would like the libretto to be magnificent and at the same time passionate. There should be a great deal of fire and action in it, and it should be concise. Remember brevity and passion.” Throughout the process he dogmatically demanded multiple changes and rewrites until he had the concise, taut drama he had envisioned.
This was Verdi’s first opera based on an existing literary work, and his willingness to undertake a story by one of the most controversial authors of the time was daring. However, while there is a political element to the story of Ernani, what made it the most popular opera of its day is the moving, human tragedy of the four characters at the center of it. All four are nuanced, multi-faceted characters that fascinate us.
The theme of honor has long been a mainstay of drama and literature. Verdi was to revisit this subject many times in his career – notably with Macbeth, La forza del destino and even his comedy Falstaff – but never more so than with Ernani. This story of three men all in love with the same woman is deepened and complicated by the challenges all four face to preserve or defend their honor sometimes even to their own detriment.
Ernani deeply loves Elvira, but his blind hatred for Carlo leads him to declare a fatal oath which honor demands he keep. Elvira holds on to her honor by refusing to submit to either Silva or Carlo while remaining true to her beloved Ernani. Silva’s determination to honor his pledge of hospitality to Ernani results in his losing the woman he loves. Meanwhile, Carlo realizes that in order to be honored as a great leader, he must choose to emulate the venerable leaders of the past.
Verdi had a hand in all aspects of the creation and premiere of this opera and history proves that his svision and determination paid off. The reviews of the opening night were rapturous: “In the lobbies, the streets, the drawing rooms, the new songs are on everyone’s lips.” “Ernani is Verdi at his most irresistibly melodic and dramatic.” With this opera’s gripping, moving character study, Verdi stepped out onto the world stage and achieved international fame.
Martha Collins is the Director of Education for Sarasota Opera where she has been a Stage Director since 2004. She is the director of this production of Ernani.
Sarasota Opera first produced Ernani in 1997 as part of its Verdi Cycle.
Ernani, a bandit, is distraught that Elvira, the woman he loves, will be forced to marry her uncle, the elderly Don Ruy Gomez de Silva the next day. When the bandits learn Elvira returns Ernani’s love, they enthusiastically agree to help rescue her.
In her room at Silva’s castle, Elvira anxiously awaits Ernani. Unexpectedly, she is visited by Don Carlo, the King of Spain, who declares his love. Elvira spurns his advances, and he taunts her for preferring Ernani. When he attempts to force her to submit to him, Ernani bursts in. He challenges the King to a duel to pay for having killed his father and stolen his honor. As Elvira pleads with them to consider her own honor, Silva suddenly enters. He is shocked to find her alone with two men and he mourns her betrayal. Not recognizing the King, he challenges both men to a duel. When the King’s identity is revealed, Silva begs for forgiveness, which Carlo grants saying he needs Silva’s support. Carlo frees Ernani, but Ernani vows revenge.
The next day, the guests are celebrating the upcoming wedding of Elvira and Silva. Ernani enters disguised as a pilgrim and Silva grants him hospitality. When Elvira enters in her bridal dress, Ernani throws off his disguise and offers the price on his head as a wedding gift. Silva refuses to hand him over to the King’s men as his honor will not allow him to break his word and his earlier offer of hospitality. Silva leaves with his men to arm the castle.
Alone with Ernani, Elvira assures him of her faithfulness, and shows him the dagger she is planning to turn on herself rather than marry Silva. Silva returns, and he is furious to find the couple embracing. When his squire announces that Don Carlo is at the castle to arrest Ernani, Silva hides Ernani in a secret passage, so he can take his own revenge later.
Don Carlo demands that the rebel leader be delivered to him, but Silva will not betray his word and offers the king his own life instead. Don Carlo orders the castle be searched, but when his men cannot find Ernani, he leaves, taking Elvira with him as hostage in order to ensure Silva’s loyalty.
Alone with Ernani, Silva challenges him to a duel. Ernani asks that he be able to see Elvira one last time, but Silva reveals she has been taken away by the king. Ernani tells Silva that Don Carlo himself loves Elvira and is their rival. Silva realizes his mistake, and Ernani urges that they suspend their quarrel and work together to free Elvira. When Silva questions whether he can trust Ernani’s word, he hands Silva his hunting horn and pledges that at the moment it is sounded he will kill himself. Silva agrees, and together with Silva’s men they set off in pursuit.
At Charlemagne’s tomb in Aix-la-Chapelle, the king ponders the fate of the conspirators who will soon meet to plot his assassination. He vows that if he is elected the Holy Roman Empire’s new emperor, he will rule wisely and strive to be worthy of the honor of the throne. He hides in the tomb.
Ernani, Silva, and a group of conspirators gather to plot the king’s assassination. They draw lots, and Ernani is chosen to carry out the deed. Silva asks Ernani to allow him the honor in exchange for his life, but Ernani refuses. The men all swear an oath to fight their oppressors.
Don Carlo emerges from the tomb when cannon shots announce that he has been elected emperor. He commands the traitors be punished, the nobles executed, and the commoners imprisoned. Ernani asks that he too be beheaded as, unbeknownst to all, he too is a nobleman, the former Don Juan of Aragon.
Elvira pleads with Don Carlo to show mercy. Don Carlo, wishing to emulate the virtues of Charlemagne, pardons all the conspirators and decrees that Elvira and Ernani shall marry. While all praise the new emperor, Silva vows to seek vengeance for his slighted honor.
Ernani has resumed his rightful position as Don Juan of Aragon, and at his castle the guests are celebrating his wedding to Elvira. They notice a menacing, masked man and order him away. As Ernani and Elvira pledge their love, a horn sounds in the distance. Recognizing the signal from Silva, Ernani sends Elvira away.
Silva appears, removes his mask, and demands Ernani honor his promise - he has sounded Ernani’s horn and now Ernani must kill himself. Elvira returns and begs Silva for mercy, but he is unmoved. Left with no choice, Ernani keeps his vow.