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Ernani [complete recordings] by Giuseppe…

Ernani [complete recordings]

by Giuseppe Verdi, Victor Hugo (original play), Francesco Maria-Piave (Libretto)

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Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)

Opera in Four Acts

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave, after Hernani by Victor Hugo

Ernani: Mario del Monaco
Elvira: Anita Cerquetti
Ruy Gomez da Silva: Boris Christoff
Don Carlo: Ettore Bastianini

Giovanna: Luciana Boni
Don Riccardo: Athos Cesarini
Jago: Aurelian Neagu

Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Dimitri Mitropoulos

Live performance: 14 June 1957*, Teatro Comunale, Florence.

Andromeda, 2007. 2CD. 75’09’’+43’08’’. No liner notes. No libretto.

*The date is sometimes given 14 June and sometimes 25 June. The former looks more likely to be true. The cast gave four performances, on 14, 17, 20 and 23 June.


Almost 60 years later and despite the atrocious sound, this recording is still the yardstick by which all others are measured – and found wanting. Age cannot wither this unbelievable performance, nor sonic defects stale its infinite variety.

Ernani, one of the finest among Verdi’s early operas (his fifth, composed at the tender age of 30), is the classic example of the preposterous plot that’s usually derided as “operatic”. So it is. Adultery, abduction, conspiracy, betrayal, court-of-honour suicides: there is everything. Even with the best intentions in the world, it is not possible to take either the plot or the people seriously. Yet the three male characters are pleasantly complex, not your ordinary heroes or villains, or rather both at different places. There are plenty of fierce dramatic scenes between them, but also some deeply moving moments. Above all, the opera is bursting with glorious music that requires, alas, glorious voices.

In 1957, it was still possible to assemble a whole cast of such voices. The Florentine audience at Teatro Comunale was extremely fortunate that night – and they knew it. All four principals not only had the stupendous voices to do full justice to their parts. They were in stupendous form as well. This makes it all the more regrettable that some nasty cuts, most notably Silva’s martial cabaletta in the first act, were observed. But this was hardly unusual in those times.[1]

Mario del Monaco (1915–1982) sang Ernani for 11 years (1956-67) and, though he never made a commercial recording of the part, there are plenty of live performances preserved which testify that he was born to sing it. Ernani, like Radames, is a heavy part that makes the hapless singer plunge into difficult recitative, cavatina and cabaletta as soon as he appears on the stage and later pitches him against soprano, baritone and bass of true Verdian splendour. Mario thrives on parts like this. He makes most other tenors sound like sight-reading students. As you can guess, his Ernani is not the most elegant out there. But he does compensate with a lot of passion and drama. “Mercè, diletti amici”, “Come rugiada al cespite” and “O tu che I’alm adora”, the great triad from the beginning, are all the better for them.

That’s what the part needs most, passion and drama. But it also needs some subtlety. And Mario delivers that, too. In the final act, as swift and shattering as there ever was one, Ernani has two ariosos, “Tutto ora tace intorno” and “Solingo, errante e misero”, which are often overlooked, probably because they are not spectacular enough. But these moments are some of the earliest revelations of Verdi’s genius. Terrified first by the sound of the horn and then by the appearance of Silva himself, Ernani reflects on his heart unused to happiness and then grovels to his torturer to let him enjoy Elvira’s love just a little longer. These two short episodes speak volumes. They add a whole new dimension and make you reconsider Ernani’s character from the beginning. Simply listen to Mario’s heartrending performance. He produces elegance and richness of tone he is seldom given credit for.

Boris Christoff (1914–1993) sang Silva only nine times in his long and illustrious career. One of them was a radio performance in 1968 for RAI Milano, also released countless times, the other eight were two productions with four shows each, this one in Florence and one in Rome six years earlier (February 1951). He looked as imposing on the stage as he sounds here. It’s hard to imagine how the “pledge theme” in the last act, calling on Ernani to kill himself at the sound of his horn, can sound any more menacing. The same goes for the implacable “E’ vano, o donna, il piangere, è vano” and “E’ vano, io non perdono, è vano” that describe the futility of Elvira’s tears and prayers better than any words without music. On the other hand, Silva’s great cavatina from the first act (“Infelice! E tuo credevi”) is sung with flawless legato and perfect diction that turn the Spanish grandee, at least for the time being, into a tragic character. Who can fail to be moved, deeply moved, when the old man laments the preservation of his young heart in old age?

Ettore Bastianini (1922–1967) remains, for me, the quintessential Verdian baritone. I have yet to hear other Rigoletto, Posa, Germont or Count di Luna even remotely comparable to his beauty of phrasing and dramatic intensity. Don Carlo is no exception. You don’t need to take my words for that. All you need to do is hear “Grand Dio! costor sui sepolcrali marmi” and “O sommo Carlo” in the third act. This is miraculous singing. It refutes with a vengeance the old hokum that Bastianini is “all beauty and no drama”. If still unconvinced, give an ear to Carlo’s tremendous clashes with Ernani in Act I (“Tu se’ Ernani!”) and Silva in Act II (“Lo vedremo, veglio audace”). In fact, the character of Don Carlo, much like those of Ernani and Silva, hides depth and complexity which are no less real for being rather crude in comparison with Verdi’s later mastery. One hardly expects this in an opera by a thirty-year-old composer, but there it is.

The late Anita Cerquetti (1931–2014) had much too brief a career during the 1950s and is barely remembered today outside operaphilic circles. She deserves better. She is neither Callas nor Tebaldi, but she does combine something from both worlds. She is vocally and dramatically superb here. Elvira is much the least interesting of the four principals and she tends to be ignored by fans of the opera – including myself. But Cerquetti forces you to take Elvira seriously. Though “Ernani, involami”, her great aria that opens the second scene of the first act, is beautifully sung, Cerquetti is more illuminating in Elvira’s few dramatic moments. Chief among these is “Ferma, crudele”, her poignant address to Silva in the last act. Elvira is undeniably a simpler character than any of her three suitors (Verdi’s women apparently developed more slowly than his men), but in this amazing final scene, and at few places earlier, she demonstrates surprising courage in speaking her mind.

Pay no attention to nonsense like “New Remastering 24 bit / 96 kHz” on the front cover. The sound was poor in the beginning and has remained so through countless editions on LP and CD over the years. Both the singers and the orchestra sound by turns dimly distant or crudely forward. The balance is often poor, there is much loss of detail, and the dynamic range is, to say the least, limited. Nothing of this can spoil the vocal feast or the inspired conducting of Mitropoulos.

It is difficult to think of another recording with quite so strong a cast. Possibly the only one comparable is the 1956 Metropolitan production with Del Monaco, Milanov, Warren and Siepi, again under the baton of Mitropoulos (also available on Andromeda). There are other live recordings with Del Monaco, Bastianini and Christoff, but they invariably feature at least one rather weak link in the principals. For instance, the 1960 performance from the San Carlo in Naples does have Bastianini and Del Monaco in almost the same glorious form, but Margherita Roberti is hardly in the same league as Cerquetti and Rossi-Lemeni cannot hold a candle to Christoff. The 1968 radio performance conducted by Gavazzeni has Christoff in less fresh but still magnificent voice and the young Caballé as a stunning Elvira, but Prevedi and Glossop, despite their fine voices and refined artistry, are very far from Del Monaco and Bastianini. The best alternative in decent studio sound is the 1967 recording with Bergonzi, Price, Sereni and Flagello. But to my mind only Price is on the same level!

[1] Incidentally, this cabaletta is very fishy and there are good grounds for its omission. It now seems that it was a later interpolation based on an aria Verdi originally wrote at the request of one Marini, then a famous bass, for an 1842 revival of his first opera, Oberto, in Barcelona. The same Marini appears later to have introduced the cabaletta in Ernani. Whatever the details, the cabaletta is not in Verdi’s manuscript of Ernani and there is no evidence that he ever sanctioned the interpolation. See Philip Gossett, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera, The University of Chicago Press, 2006, pp. 128-32. ( )
  Waldstein | May 13, 2017 |
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Opera in Four Acts

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave, after Hernani by Victor Hugo

Ernani: Bruno Prevedi
Elvira: Montserrat Caballé
Ruy Gomez da Silva: Boris Christoff
Don Carlo: Peter Glossop

Giovanna: Mirella Fiorentini
Don Riccardo: Franco Ricciardi
Jago: Giuseppe Morresi

RAI Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
Gianandrea Gavazzeni

Live Broadcast: Milan, March 25, 1969.*

Opera d'Oro, 2008. Grand Tier edition. 2CD. 60:42+36:47. Liner notes and libretto translation by Robert Levine. Libretto (It+Eng).

*Not really correct. This is the date of the broadcast, but it was not live. It was recorded on 26 November 1968, probably in one take and with little or no editing later.


Actually, a very fine recording. ( )
  Waldstein | Sep 29, 2015 |
  USYDArtsMusicLibrary | Aug 19, 2010 |
  USYDArtsMusicLibrary | Aug 19, 2010 |
  USYDArtsMusicLibrary | Aug 2, 2010 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Giuseppe Verdiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hugo, Victororiginal playmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Maria-Piave, FrancescoLibrettomain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bastianini, EttoreDon Carlosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bergonzi, CarloErnanisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bruson, RenatoDon Carlosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caballé, MontserratElvirasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cerquetti, AnitaElvirasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Christoff, BorisDon Ruy Gomez da Silvasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coro e Orchestr del Teatro all Scallasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Del Monaco, MarioErnanisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Domingo, PlácidoErnanisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flagello, EzioSilvasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gavazzeni, Gianandreaconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghiaurov, NicolaiSilvasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Glossop, PeterDon Carlosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maggio Musicale Fiorentinoorchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Milnes, SherrillDon Carlosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitropoulos, Dimitriconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mueller, HartjeSilvasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muti, Riccardoconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
New York Metropolitan Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestra e coro del Maggio Musicale fiorentinochorus, orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestra sinfonico e coro di Milano della RAIchorus, orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pavarotti, LucianoErnanisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prevedi, BrunoErnanisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Price, LeontyneElvirasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raimondi, RuggieroSilvasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
RCA Italiana coro e orchestrachorus, orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schippers, Thomasconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sereni, MarioDon Carlosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Tells of the ill fated love between Elvira and Ernani, who having been pardoned by the king and about to marry Elvira, stabs himself and dies in her arms in fulfilment of his promise to Silva.

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