Oberto, Verdi's first opera, had a long and frustrating gestation, but the events in the composer's personal life just prior to its staging were more than trying: both of Verdi's infant children died, the first in August 1838, the second just a month before the November 17, 1839, premiere. The generally positive response to the opera by both critics and public, however, offered at least some consolation to the bereft Verdi. Indeed, the composer was given a contract for three more operas.
While Oberto is not one of Verdi's stronger operatic efforts, it nevertheless offers much good music to accompany a libretto that contains romance, infidelity, and violent revenge, all attractive ingredients in the world of opera. Set in Italy in 1228, the story concerns the deceitful womanizer, Count Riccardo, who seduces the daughter (Leonora) of his friend (Oberto). When Leonora reveals his deeds to Cuniza, Riccardo's betrothed, a series of events are set off that lead to Oberto killing the Count.
Stylistically, Oberto betrays the influence of Rossini and Bellini, though in places it looks ahead to the more mature Verdi, such as in the Act II quartet "La vergogna," thought by many to be the high point of the opera. Leonora (soprano) has a lovely, if dark aria in the opening Act, "Sotto il paterno tetto," in which she sings about "the angel of beauty." There are several other attractive arias, as well, including a lovely Act I cavatina by Riccardo (tenor), "Son fra voi!," wherein he, returning victorious from battle, acknowledges that he is undeserving of the praise heaped on him from the enthusiastic chorus of knights and courtiers. There is also a quite atmospheric number by Oberto (bass), the Act II "L'orror del tradimento," wherein he awaits his duel with Riccardo, pondering whether his opponent is a coward. The orchestral writing is solid if not quite as imaginative as that in the middle-and late-Verdi operas, and the choruses are colorful and well-crafted.