Share article about #Italian Opera: Adapting Ernani – A Brief History

Share of the article Adapting Ernani: A Brief History by Ilana Walder-Biesanz from the Opera21 magazine: http://opera21.tumblr.com/post/66105761450/adapting-ernani-a-brief-history

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In 1843, after the success of three operas Verdi wrote for Teatro alla Scala, Teatro La Fenice asked the young composer to write for them. The contract included one condition: contralto Caterina Vietti must be given a major part. Despite not having a subject or librettist in mind, Verdi agreed (for the high price of 12,000 lire) and began the search for a collaborator.

He didn’t meet with much success until the president of La Fenice, Count Nani Mocenigo, recommended he hire Francesco Maria Piave (then unknown). The three (Verdi, Piave, and Mocenigo) jointly looked for a fitting subject. They suggested Shakespeare, Byron, and even Bulwer-Lytton, but finally settled on Victor Hugo’s successful historical drama Cromwell.

With only occasional suggestions from Verdi, Piave soon finished the first draft of a libretto for Cromvello (which had by then been re-titled Allan Cameron). Count Mocenigo looked at the libretto, disapproved, and suggested Piave start over with a different Hugo play—the successful and controversial melodrama Hernani. Verdi readily agreed – so readily, in fact, that some scholars suspect that Verdi and Mocenigo had intended to switch the opera’s subject all along and were only testing Piave with the Cromwell assignment. Piave was predictably frustrated, especially because he very much liked Hugo’s Hernani and felt that the reduction of the text required for an operatic adaptation would cheapen it.

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