Ernani was the fifth opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi, the first of five works commissioned by the Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, where had its premiere on 9 March 1844.The principal source for this edition is Verdi’s autograph score, preserved at the Ricordi Historical Archive, bound in four volumes, one for each act of the opera. It is not the fair copy of a work previously finished. Its pages are therefore full of changes made at every level: from immediate corrections of simple oversights to modifications in the compositional plan, the result of Verdi’s considered revisions. In spite of these, the autograph score of Ernani is a document of great clarity that reflects with precision the composer’s wishes. Editorial interventions are almost exclusively based on Verdi’s notation and rarely on other sources, and the reader can reconstruct what Verdi actually set down on paper from the edition itself.
The only other known autograph source for Ernani is the manuscript of the Aria with Chorus, «Odi il voto, o grande Iddio» – now housed in New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Mary Flagler Cary Music Collection –, which Verdi composed for the tenor Nicola Ivanoff at the request of Gioachino Rossini, for the performances in Parma that began on 26 December 1844.During most of Verdi’s life the full score of Ernani circulated in manuscript copies. Only in October 1891 did Ricordi begin engraving a printed edition; they issued a second edition in reduced format in 1944. Both were intended for rental. These late sources have no textual relevance for the critical edition.
The principal source for the literary text of Ernani remains Verdi’s autograph score. In the absence of Piave’s manuscript, the principal source for the libretto is the printed edition, prepared by the publisher Molinari in Venice for the first staging of the opera. When there is a difference between Verdi’s autograph score and the original libretto, the critical edition follows Verdi’s autograph score for the literary text unless it can be shown unequivocally that Verdi made a mistake.
The coherent performance of an opera such as Ernani requires the analysis and solution of many problems, beginning with the fundamental issue of the physical space in which the opera is performed. Nowadays this is almost always different from its original configuration. In fact, while the architecture of many Italian nineteenth-century theaters has not changed, the introduction of the so-called mystic gulf profoundly altered the web of acoustic relationships between the various elements of the performance. At the time of Ernani, and until the European diffusion of Wagnerian dramaturgical law, the orchestra was on the same, or almost the same, level as the audience. Lowering the orchestra considerably below the audience level altered the balance and ultimately the acoustic cohesion that should exist between the singers and the orchestra; moreover, it changed the nature and quality of the audience’s reception of the sound. Thus, certain aspects of the original performance are now impossible to reproduce.