I Lombardi, Verdi’s fourth opera, is set during the First Crusade. The librettist is Temistocle Solera. The libretto is based upon Tomasso Grossi’s verse epic in 15 cantos. Solera was also the librettist for Oberto (1839), Nabucco (1842), Giovanna d’Arco (1845), and Attila (1846). He was an active anti-Austrian resister, and was once incarcerated for his activities. Grossi also lived under the Austrian government of Milan, and after his early poetic successes of 1816 written in Milanese, wrote in Italian, and in 1826 published I Lombardi all prima crociata, which became the unrivalled pinnacle of Italian poetry published in the 19th century. Hence, Solera’s 1843 adaptation for Verdi. Grossi and Verdi met at the Milanese literary salon of Countess Clara Maffei, a supporter of the Risorgimento. Milan, returned to Austrian rule by the 1815 Congress of Vienna, united with Italy in 1866.
Musically, there are two pieces of special note. One is the long, unexpected prelude for violin and orchestra, a small concerto in effect, that is found at the beginning of the third scene of the third act. The second, in the first scene of the second act, is Oronte’s aria La mia letizia infondere, which tenors, rightfully, are infatuated with because the listener is as well; and which, for a few moments, fills the universe with harmony.