Review: Lyric Opera’s “Ernani”

Masterful Execution of a Verdi Unknown

 Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Ernani 10/24/09.

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents


At the Civic Opera House
By Giuseppe Verdi
Based on Victor Hugo’s tragedy Hernani
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Conducted by Renato Palumbo
Stage directed by Jose Maria Condemi
Thru November 23rd (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Ernani09 The Lyric Opera presents Ernani, an opera written by Giuseppe Verdi and first performed in 1844. The Italian opera with projected English subtitles tells the tale of Elvira’s suitors, all fighting for her love: Ernani, Don Carlo-King of Spain and Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. The outlaw, Ernani storms Silva’s castle to abduct Elvira. He runs into the King and an Elvira abduction already in progress. Silva enters furious that his fiancé is being double-abducted in his own home. In love with Ernani, Elvira escapes her marriage to Silva by becoming a hostage of the King’s. Because Silva keeps him from being arrested, Ernani pledges his life to him. In Ernani terms, this promise means Silva gets to decide when Ernani will die. So, after the King pardons everyone and orders Elvira to marry Ernani, who shows up as the wedding crasher? Silva appears and asks Ernani, “poison or dagger?” Ernani chooses a dagger, stabs himself and dies in Elvira’s arms.

A brief announcement at the beginning of Act II informs the audience that Salvatore Licitra (Ernani) begs forgiveness at his inability to sing at his optimal level. Because of the faulty microphone, it’s unclear what the issue is. The person next to me asks, “did he say tracheotomy?” I’m certain it is a trace of bronchitis or another ailment. No matter what Licitra’s struggle is, his performance is stellar. Only in duets with the powerful soprano performance of Sondra Radvanovsky (Elvira) did it occur to me that Licitra might be in a challenging match. Along with the King (Boaz Daniel) and Silva (Giacomo Prestia), the opera is sung magnificently. Adding to the grandeur of the performance, set and costume designer Scott Marr uses the huge cast adorned in finery or cloaked in black to contrast a wedding from the catacombs. With multiple wardrobe and set changes, the dynamic production is eye candy to the audience. Elvira’s costumes, designed by Donna Langman, are particularly exquisite.


Ernani01 Ernani08

Ernani is a must see for its magnificent performances, beautiful costumes, and elaborate sets. The actual opera? Not so much. Verdi wrote Ernani early in his career at age 31. It doesn’t have the memorable arias of his later works, like; La Traviata, Aida, Rigoletto and Falstaff. The story is clunky. In Act II, Elvira tells Ernani she decided to marry Silva when she heard he was dead. What? I want Ernani to ask, or rather sing, “what happened during the intermission that made you think I was dead?” It’s also unclear why these three men all want Elvira when it’s obvious she only wants Ernani. Is it because she dresses nice? I don’t get it. And because it’s an opera, I’m ready for a tragic ending to a love story. Possible alternative endings after Ernani and Elvira’s wedding: Silva kills Ernani, the king kills Ernani, Elvira chokes on a piece of cake and because Ernani thinks she’s dead, he kills himself, she spits out cake realizes he’s dead and kills herself. But Ernani’s suicide because he promised Silva, his nemesis, that he would? Elvira totes around a dagger threatening to kill herself throughout the show but ultimately doesn’t as Ernani dies in her arms. Unsatisfying, Verdi!

Rating: «««


More: Watch the Ernani video trailer.     |     Listen to Ernani scene commentary.



Pictures by Dan Rest

Stars of Ernani


Salvatore Licitra

Salvatore Licitra


Sondra Radvanovsky

Sondra Radvanovsky


Boaz Daniel

Boaz Daniel


Giacomo Prestia

Giacomo Prestia




Preshow, we head to Nick’s Fish Market (51 S. Clark Street) to partake in their “happy hour light bites” as described and priced on the internet. We opt for the bar and grill on the main floor and score the last table. Hints of discounted appetizers from 4pm to 8pm are nowhere to be found on the menu presented by the server. Upon request, the server begrudgingly brings the “special menu.” We make a feast of five cheese puffs ($2), trio of mini crab cakes ($5) and a tuna spring roll ($5). Accompanied by a glass of petit syrah, it’s the perfect pre-opera nosh.

During the show, we realize the running time is approximately three hours with two intermissions. Knowing it’s a school night, we have our post show drink during the 2nd intermission. The best scenario is to avoid waiting in line during intermission by pre-paying (with a nice tip) at the end of the first intermission or preshow.

For newbies to the grandeur and majesty of the Lyric Opera, here are other suggestions for an optimal experience. Be on time!! The curtain always goes up on schedule and there is no late seating. Latecomers are banished downstairs to view monitors until the end of the first act. Don’t clap every time there is a pause in the singing. It’s an opera, a musical without spoken dialogue. Sporadic applause disrupts the flow and annoys the regulars. Applause is reserved for the end of an act or a particularly magnificent aria and can be accompanied with a “bravo.” Don’t feel bad if you can only afford a seat on the fifth floor. Some music aficionados believe the higher level acoustics provide the best listening vantage. But even if your seats are higher up, scurry down to the mezzanine or main level during breaks. People watching during the pre-show and intermissions is almost as excitingly dramatic as the staged performance. No one does a magnificent theatre experience like the Lyric Opera! Bravo!

3 Responses

  1. I hate to be critical of a review on a site like this, but in the interest of quality control, let me mention that it was obvious the second Licitra opened his mouth in act I that he was having problems. I was hoping for an announcement of a new tenor for the remaining acts, as my wife can attest. Perhaps those with a less experienced ear for opera wouldn’t have noticed/minded the problems, but I having a very hard time listening to him.

  2. No problem, Sam, and thanks so much for your input. We welcome all comments, good or bad. Thanks for reading. Scotty Zacher

  3. […] Check out the rest of the review at The Chicago Theater Blog […]

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