‘Ernani’ Assembles Operatic Dream Team in Chicago

A soprano with a golden voice and tenor who sings with power and beauty. Plus a baritone whose phrasing is exquisite and a bass whose low notes are sinister, indeed.

That’s the core of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Ernani,” now in production at the Lyric Opera, and Chicago has assembled a dream team.

American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who has made a specialty of Verdi roles, possesses a huge voice, strong enough to soar over the orchestra, flexible enough to send forth sparkling bel canto trills, and luminous in tone and color. She plays Elvira, a woman loved by three men, including a king.

Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra has the title role and he brings an endearing nobility to the role of the erstwhile outlaw, Ernani, the only man Elvira loves. His tone is gorgeous, and he too has a large, robust voice that flows forth with ease.

Israeli baritone Boaz Daniel is Don Carlo, who in the course of the opera becomes Charles V and Holy Roman emperor. His character pardons all the rebels and gives his blessing to Ernani and Elvira. Daniel sings the part gracefully.

{loadposition incontent_entertainment}It is no surprise that the bad guy in this quartet is the bass. The role of Silva, the old Spanish grandee who lusts after the young Elvira, is played with zest by Italian bass Giacomo Prestia, another Verdi specialist blest with a power house of a voice.

Mention must be made of the way the voices blend in this production. When Licitra and Radvanovsky’s sing together as if they were members of the same family, and when Prestia’s bass is added the result is deep and richer still.

Lyric’s production design director Scott Maar created the lovely sets and lavish costumes, and everything about this production is a visual feast. The action begins with a gigantic full moon hanging over the rebel’s camp site. The next scene is in Silva’s palace, its walls decorated with patterned plaster work. Later on the palace wall are 6 tall stained glass panels. We visit Charlemagne’s tomb in France and attend a masquerade in Ernani’s garden at daybreak.

The costumes, reflecting 16th century Spain, are lush beyond telling—fur trim on coats, thigh-high leather boots and even shining armor on the palace knights. Velvets and jewel-toned brocades encrusted with sparkling tones or embellished with metallic threads are worn by men and women alike.

This is one of Verdi’s very early operas, and it is based on Victor Hugo’s drama “Hernani,” which had been a great success. The plot, relying on the highly developed concept of honor, is quite incomprehensible in today’s world. Let’s just say that pledges made on one’s honor are kept, with tragic consequences.

“Ernani” was conducted by Italian maestro Renato Palumbo. A tepid overture the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 11, was not promising, but by the end of the first scene the Lyric Opera Orchestra was playing with its usual warmth and vigor.

Though the story lacks the appeal of Verdi’s later works, his music is splendid, the sets and costumes are stunning, and the singers are top flight—plenty of reasons to catch this masterful production running through Nov. 23.

For tickets and information on the Lyric season, which runs through March 27, visit www.lyricopera.org or call (312) 332-2244.