While the rumble of a rolling timpani and foreboding horns quietly crawl out from the pit orchestra, our protagonist, Ernani, finds himself alone in a sea of darkness, suspended in a thick, foggy smoke. As more carefree strings follow suit, a short scene is illuminated on Ernani’s right: a fight, perhaps a duel, taking place in slow motion, as if in a dream or lost memory. All Ernani can do is watch.
The fateful timpani and horns return. One of the men in the fight is slain. The memory fades. Ernani falls to his knees, alone on the stage once again.
Named after our dear protagonist, the opera by Guiseppe Verdi tells a quintessential tragic love story as Ernani fights to rescue his love, Elvira, before she’s married to Silva, a duke of Spain, and to avenge the death of his father. While the music and form of this Italian opera help elevate its many dramatic twists and turns, what makes Lyric Opera’s interpretation so compelling, in this writer’s opinion, is how it also tells Ernani’s story through the staging.
Lyric Opera’s Scenography: In Harmony with Ernani’s Libretto and Score
The latter half of Ernani’s first act places us inside the corridors of a Spanish castle, lit entirely by chandeliers, all its path leading to a room blocked off by two enormous and ornate wooden doors. The vast empty halls are occupied only by Elvira, dwarfing her as she laments her inevitable marriage to Silva, powerless to stop it, confined to the intimidating walls of the castle. But this striking scene of her isolation is only for a moment, quickly followed by the castle suddenly coming to life as many servants flood through the towering doors, showering Elvira with gifts and singing her praises. Even as the impossibly large space has been filled with people and song, one can’t help but feel Elvira’s tragedy, hopeless and alone without her love, Ernani, by her side.
For the third act, we have descended into the depths of the castle and into Charlemagne’s burial vault. The score is brooding and dark, and the space is equally cold and foreboding. Charlemagne’s tomb is flanked on either side by tall blazing torches, the only thing illuminating the otherwise barren vault. A pair of iron doors behind the tomb seals the hollowed grounds. The mood created by the space echoes Ernani, Silva, and their conspirators’ intentions, as they enter the vault in their quest to kill the King of Spain.
Mirroring how Elvira’s room suddenly sprung to life two acts before, the firing of three canons prompts the King to emerge from behind the tomb, empowered by golden light cascading from the now open iron doors. The sorrow turns into joy and the vengeance turns into mercy as light envelops the vault and the King forgives Ernani’s trespasses. The dramatic changes in instrumentation, staging, and story complement one other and coalesce into moments of grandeur, in this case, but also sorrow, anger, and respite.
Lyric Opera’s interpretation of Verdi’s Ernani is recommended to opera fans as well as those looking to experience it for the very first time.
Russel Thomas as Ernani
Tamara Wilson as Elvira
Quinn Kelsey as Don Carlo
Katherine DeYoung as Giovanna
Christian Van Horn as Don Ruy Gómez de Silva
Ron Dukes as Jago
Alejandro Luévanos as Riccardo
Conductor: Enrique Mazzola
Director: Louisa Muller
Set and Costume Designer: Scott Marr
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Wingmaster and Makeup Designer: Sarah Hatten
Assistant Director: David Carl Toulson
Stage Manager: Alaina Bartkowiak
Stage Band Director: Francesco Milioto
Musical Preparation: Susan Miller Hult, Noah Lindquist, Francesco Milioto, and Jerad Mosbey
Prompter: Susan Miller Hult
Fight Director: Nicolas Sandys
Projected English Titles: Francis Rizzo
Thru October 1, 2022
Civic Opera House
20 North Wacker Drive
About the Author: Francisco Gallardo
Truly a jack of all trades (it’s boring being a master of one), you’ll find Francisco Gallardo playing the viola or guitar, preparing his next calligraphic work, coding up a helpful script, eating way too much sushi with the boys, or, more recently, trying his hand at writing and translation. Fortunately for him, “Hay más tiempo que vida”, so it’s only a matter of time before he finds something else to append to this list…