Major Operas | Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic

Verdi’s four-act opera Ernani, which has been called his ‘most romantic’ work, was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on 9 March 1844. An immediate success, it was based on the tragedy Hernani by the French writer Victor Hugo.

Politically, the treatment of the subject was far more overt than Nabucco, featuring a revolutionary outlaw as its eponymous hero and the King of Spain as the conniving villain. The fifth of Verdi’s total of 28 operas, Ernani was the first of them to be performed in England, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London on 8 March 1845.

Composed: 1843
Premiered: 1844, Venice
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Victor Hugo

Act I

Ernani, an outlawed nobleman, is leading a group of rebels in a plot to overthrow the king Don Carlo, to avenge his father’s death. Ernani is in love with Elvira, but she is being forced to marry Don Ruy Gomez da Silva and is living in his castle where she awaits Ernani. Don Carlo also loves Elvira and arrives at the castle to claim her. Ernani arrives at the same time and da Silva enters Elvira’s room to find her two suitors. Furious, he challenges them to a duel, but calms down when he recognizes the king. Don Carlo saves Ernani from da Silva’s wrath by introducing him as a royal messenger.

Act II

Elvira’s wedding to da Silva is approaching. Ernani’s conspiracy to dethrone Don Carlo has failed. He takes refuge in da Silva’s castle. Although displeased to find Ernani with Elvira, da Silva adheres to the rules of hospitality and protects Ernani when the king comes in search of him. The king leaves with Elvira; da Silva and Ernani, realizing that Don Carlo is their common foe, join forces against him. Da Silva agrees to help Ernani on one condition: if he wants Ernani to die, he need only blow his hunting horn and the deed is done.


The election of the emperor is imminent. By the tomb of Charlemagne, Don Carlo, having heard rumours of a conspiracy, conceals himself. Ernani and da Silva arrive with the rest of the rebels and Ernani is elected to kill the king. Da Silva promises Ernani his life if he will let him carry out the task instead, but Ernani refuses. Don Carlo is elected emperor and confronts the rebels. Elvira persuades him to spare their lives and, realizing that she will only ever love Ernani, Don Carlo allows the couple to marry and restores Ernani’s property and status. Da Silva is furious.

Act IV

At the palace of Ernani, who is in fact Don Giovanni d’Aragona, wedding guests celebrate his marriage to Elvira. The servants are made uneasy by the presence of a masked man in a black cloak. As Ernani and Elvira declare their love for one another, they hear the sound of a hunting horn. Ernani sends Elvira away; Da Silva reveals his identity and...

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