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Verdi, Giuseppe: Ernani (1844)
Act 3: Recitative and Aria, "Gran Dio!… O de'verd'anni miei" (Don Carlo)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk1/1/2009

Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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Baritones interested in the Verdi repertoire seem to feel in auditions that it's "Eri tu" or nothing. For a baritone in Verdi, however, there's so much more to explore! I'm not asking you to rush off to locate scores of, say, La battaglia di Legnano or Alzira — but what about Ernani? It won't be an unknown quantity to most people you'll be auditioning for, and the baritone gets two spectacular arias. The first one, "Lo vedremo," is actually a bit harder to audition with because of various interjections from the bass. Try "O de' verd'anni miei," a supreme test not only of your legato, but also of your ability to present a truly noble interpretation.

Don Carlo (a fictional figure) is king of Spain in 1519. His enemies, the bandit Ernani and the old grandee Silva, have been plotting against him. Act Three opens at the tomb of Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle, where Carlo is awaiting the results of the election that may see him attaining the title of Holy Roman Emperor. He realizes that the conspirators are there, waiting to assassinate him. Reflecting on his past, he no longer sees enchantment in the dreams and deceits of his younger days. If he is called to serve on what he views as "the highest throne," he will "rise on the wings of virtue." Then he will see his name endure forever — "it will conquer the centuries."

The recitative, one of the most vocally exposed and at the same time most expressive for a baritone in all of Verdi, must be handled with immense eloquence and with the detail of a great actor. When sung with orchestra, the aria's first half is given a quiet accompaniment of low strings. So you're under no pressure in that section to pump out the big sound; you can give truly inward-looking expression to your legato — indeed, you must, to be true to the characterization. In the more expansive section half, you can "take off" and show your full tonal grandeur, especially in the line's magnificent rise on the phrase "e vincitor de' secoli."

Score: Ricordi
Recording: Sherrill Milnes in complete opera (Decca, DVD 00440 074 3228); Renato Bruson (EMI, CD 0077774708357); Ettore Bastianini (Bel Canto Society, CD 5011)
Timing: 5:00
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