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Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani (1844)
Act 1: Recitative, cavatina and cabaletta, "Mercè, diletti amici… Come rugiada al cespite… O tu che l'alma adora" (Ernani)

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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Vividly characterized in all his music, Pagano is also the most intense — also perhaps the most charismatic — bass character in early Verdi. Preceding his Act I cavatina is a recitative, but then a chorus intrudes before the cavatina begins. In auditions, jumping from the recitative to the cavatina makes too jarring a key change, so you'd have to start the cavatina "cold." You'd also have to go right from the cavatina directly into the cabaletta (there's a "bridge" passage involving both male and female choruses). On the plus side: In barely four minutes you can get through both cavatina and one verse of the cabaletta. This is also very exciting, genuinely barnstorming stuff!

We're in late-11th-century Milan. Years before the opera begins, on the day of Viclinda's wedding, Pagano, who loved her, attempted to kill her bridegroom, Arvino, who was Pagano's own brother. Banished from Milan, Pagano supposedly repented and in Act I he's welcomed back to Milan. He's not happy, though, when it's announced that Arvino's going to lead the Lombards in their Crusade. When Pagano hears nuns in a nearby church praying, he mocks them. In his cavatina, he thinks of Viclinda, wondering how she could have believed he, in his suffering, could ever have forgotten her. Between cavatina and cabaletta, his squire summons the men who are going to assist Pagano in seeking revenge on his brother. The nuns are heard once again before Pagano bursts forth in his cabaletta, declaring that, even if he must shed blood to do it, he will make Viclinda his.

The andante cavatina contrasts Verdi's typical legato of this period with an initially very active, nervous accompaniment that relaxes significantly in the second half. You'll need complete command of a compass extending from low G to high F. The piece can only work with true vocal amplitude, but not — I repeat, not — at the expense of smooth, well-centered tone. The cabaletta requires not only fabulous energy and thrust, but also great security to give a real thrill to the repeated ascents up to F on "altri il sangue spargerà."

Score: Ricordi
Recording: On CD (complete role), Samuel Ramey (Decca #455287) or Ruggero Raimondi (Philips #000942602)
Timing: 3:51
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