Ernani Review - A Spectacular New Production by Lyric Opera of Chicago

I overheard some friends who are regular Lyric Opera of Chicago attendees recently talking with one another, “Why Ernani?  I never heard of it!”  After they see it, they will remember the name and the thrill of seeing it.

King(Boaz Daniel),Elvira(Sondra Radvanovsky)and Ernani(Salvatore Licitra)

This new production of Ernani, an opera rarely performed, due in part to the formidable vocal requirements, is back at Lyric Opera of Chicago. This is its second appearance, the first in 1984.  What a wonderful opportunity to see a truly spectacular Ernani production.

Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, concerns the outlawed Ernani and Don Carlo, King of Spain, who are both in love with Elvira. Don Carlo becomes Holy Roman emperor, Ernani marries Elvira, and Silva (guardian and former fiancé of Elvira) gets revenge.

Ernani takes place in 16th century Spain.  Sets depict a boisterous rebel camp, an opulent Moorish castle, royal catacombs and an elegant Spanish palace.  The 246 costumes are a delight to the eye, with textures and colors inspired by the paintings of TitianEl Greco and others of that period.

The story tells us that in 16th century Spain there lived a hero, an aristocrat (Ernani) disguised as an outlaw who is leading a revolt against the King, Don Carlo who he believes is responsible for his (Ernani’s) own father’s death and therefore he is seeking revenge. Carlo seeks Elvira but Elvira is in love with Ernani and he with her.  And a third suitor is Elvira’ s aged uncle, Silva, who is set to marry her even though she loathes him.  The best way to follow the twists and turns of the story is to see Ernani.

Ernani(Salvatore Licitra)and Elvira(Sondra Radvanovsky)

You will see tenor Salvatore Licitra in the title role, baritone Boaz Daniel as King Carlo, and bass Giacomo Prestia as Silva who play the three fierce rivals who hate each other and all want to marry Sondra Radvanovsky’s Elvira.

Radvanovsky is an acclaimed Verdi interpreter. Fortunately for Lyric audiences she is performing despite a series of “unfortunate events”. Despite having her right leg in a cast and her left foot in considerable pain, the show opened with Sondra Radvanovsky, a Berwyn native. Her problems occurred during an engagement as Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore at San Francisco Opera in September. And then, more difficulties took place when, on Oct. 3, she kicked a would-be purse-snatcher, spraining her right ankle; she later tore a ligament while running offstage. Then, on Oct. 6, during the final performance of Trovatore, tenor Marco Berti fell to his knees – and onto Radvanovsky’s left foot, breaking her little toe. This was hard to believe because her performance was simply amazing.  Not only is she a joy to listen to, but, she is also wonderful to watch as she floats and falls and moves into positions that would seem impossible.  Obviously, the cast on her leg up to her knee is not a limitation for the role she is commanding.

Reluctant bride to be-Elvira(Sondra Radvanovsky)

In Ernani, there is so much to see and to hear.  Over and over, everyone spoke of the fabulous sets.  Did you ever see a set receive an ovation?  It was the opening of the second act when I did.  And following that there was a scene when the stage filled with people in exquisite costumes that actually took my breath away-it was so beautiful.  But there was so much more, including drama, romance, beauty for the eye and melodious blends of every kind for the ear-and energy.  Vera was sitting nearby and she expressed her delight in being able to attend opera matinees since she has retired.  She spoke of the artistic experience of the opera-the beauty, the sets, the music, the drama-the entire experience.

Breathtaking Act II

Roger Pines offers insights about Ernani in an article in the Spring 2009 “Lyric Opera News” when he quotes Lyric’s conductor, Renato Palumbo, “…Verdi is always Verdi, with the heart that is impossible to find anywhere else in opera.”  Ernani, Verdi’s fifth opera, marks him as master of the large chorus. Victor Hugo’s romantic melodrama, “Hernani”, (which was written in a month and was very successful) is the basis for the opera.  This is the first Verdi opera that did not premiere at La Scala. However, opening in Venice at Teatro La Fenice in 1844, it was a great success.

To see it is to know why it was successful.  From the moment it opens with a huge chorus, to its touching and beautiful end, the music is unstoppable.  Whether solo, duet, trio, quartet, interactions with the chorus and orchestra, I wanted the arias to go on and on.  There was the Pavoratti-like voice of Salvatore Licitra (Ernani) that was so beautiful.  It often blended with the voice of Sondra Radvanovsky (Elvira) so skillfully and beautifully I wanted to listen to more and more of this exquisite sound. The blending of sounds caught my attention.  Early in the third act, it was a cello that essentially was part of a duet. Giacomo Prestia (Silva) lent power with his deep voice and convincing presence.

Silva(Giacomo Prestia), Ernani(Salvatore Licitra)

I am sure my friends will find this production delightful, and when they hear this name again, it is bound to bring thoughts of drama, exquisite voices, luscious costumes, a large chorus, and sets that were spectacular and certainly, memorable.

Free pre-performance lectures take place in the theater before each performance and are a wonderful beginning to an opera experience.
Scenery-San Diego Opera Studios, Principal costumes-Donna Langman, Chorus costumes –Kitty Schweitzer, Sets and costumes- Scott Marr, Lighting designer-Duane Schuler, Chorus Master-Donald Nally.

Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 North Wacker Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60606
312.332.2244 or

Remaining performances:
Sunday November 8, 2009 - 2:00 PM, Wednesday November 11, 2009-7:30 PM,    Saturday November 14, 2009-7:30 PM,     Tuesday November 17, 2009-7:30 PM, Friday November 20, 2009-7:30 PM     
Monday November 23, 2009-7:30 PM

Photos: Dan Rest    

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