Opera Profile: Verdi’s ‘Ernani’

By David Salazar

Verdi’s “Ernani” is one of his early masterworks that remains at the forefront of the repertory.

The work, which premiered on March 9, 1844, isn’t performed nearly as some of the later and more popular works, but it is a massive showcase for the four lead singers, particularly the tenor. The work itself represented the first time that the “Verdi tenor” came into full-blooded existence and its plethora of melodies makes it accessible to the public. Many of the great tenors of the 20th century made the work a warhorse, including Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti.

Short Plot Summary

Ernani thinks of his beloved Elvira and prepares to stop her from getting married to the old Silva. Elvira is worried about her incoming marriage and ponders her love for Ernani. King Carlos, disguised as a peasant shows up to woe Elvira, but is thwarted by Ernani who confronts him. Suddenly, Silva shows up to stop them all but the King reveals his identity and leaves.

Ernani appears at Silva’s palace disguised as a pilgrim. He asks for shelter and Silva obliges. Ernani confronts Elvira for agreeing to marry Silva, but she reveals that she is ready kill herself at the altar. They pledge love to one another, but Silva finds them. The King arrives seeking out Ernani and Silva is obliged, through the code of honor, to protect his guest. The King is upset with Silva’s refusal to turn over Ernani and takes Elvira away with him.

Ernani and Silva agree to work together to find Elvira but Ernani swears that he will forfeit his life when he hears the sound of his horn.

Carlo considers his destiny as Emperor and promises to be a great and noble ruler. Ernani, Silva, and a band of conspirators arrive to murder the King. They are caught and the Emperor demands the nobleman be executed. Ernani reveals himself to be Don Juan of Aragon. Elvira pleads for her lover and Carlo forgives all. Ernani and Elvira are to be married.

Their bliss lasts little as Silva sounds the horn and demands Ernani’s suicide. He ultimately obliges.

Famous Musical Numbers

Elvira’s “Ernani involami” is widely performed out of context in concert halls. The final trio is also a famed passage, recognized for extensive and imaginative use of an Italian opera form.

Other Articles on “Ernani” on OperaWire:

How Verdi Firmly Established His Ever-Evolving Style in ‘Nabucco’ & ‘Ernani’

Watch and Listen

Here is a production starring Salvatore Licitra, Daniela Dessi, and Thomas Hampson from 2010. Hampson would become one of the leading interpreters of Carlo in recent history.


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