Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ernani: Ogni cor serba un mistero

Verdi's Ernani, a politically provocative opera which enjoyed great popular success in the years following its 1844 premiere, exists today only on the fringes of that portion of his oeuvre likely to be known through performance. The thrilling edginess which Verdi and his audiences saw in the plot (based on a play by Victor Hugo) can be obscured by its manifest implausibilities. But the music is engaging and imaginatively melodic, and Verdi's capability of suiting musical convention to the needs of his drama (and making it bend to do so, if necessary) is displayed advantageously. Pier Luigi Samaritani's 1983 production for the Met tends towards the ponderously monumental, but the cast of the current revival ensures this Ernani is an exciting night at the opera.

I admit to being relatively unfamiliar with Ernani's score, but I was pleasantly surprised by the energy and attention to detail which Marco Armiliato and the orchestra brought to it. Dramatic momentum was admirably maintained, and significant details emerged eloquently. The chorus had restrictive choreography, but contributed solid, vigorous singing, notably in the patriotic Act III chorus, "Si ridesti il Leon di Castiglia." Noteworthy was the contribution of tenor Adam Laurence Herskowitz in the role of Don Riccardo, the king's messenger. He conveyed an appropriate sense of urgency to his various announcements, with a clean, ringing sound and good diction. The opera centers, however, on the relationships--intensely personal and inevitably political--binding the four principals.

In the hands of a lesser singer, the role of Silva might have seemed a stiff caricature. Ferruccio Furlanetto made the stern nobleman complex and compelling. His singing was emotionally rich, as well as authoritative (and included a masterful account of the optional cabaletta, ``Infin che un brando vindice.'')  Silva's love for Elvira was credible--misplaced, perhaps, but certainly more than lust--and his pride and anger stirringly intense. The final tragedy of his bitter vengeance is his, as well as the lovers'. The role of Don Carlo (elected Holy Roman Emperor as Carlo V) is that with the clearest dramatic growth over the course of the opera, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, with his trademark combination of lyricism and vocal power, gave a charismatic performance. He sounded perhaps less than effortless at the top of his range, but combined gorgeous singing with thoughtful characterization (the run marks his role debut.) "Vieni meco, sol di rose" was as close to a seductive purr as I imagine Verdi singing can be, but Hvorostovsky also convinced in the reflective "O de' verd'anni miei" and the grave nobility of "O sommo Carlo."

This was my first time hearing Angela Meade in a complete role, and I was extremely impressed. Her soprano is one of exceptional power and range. She showed off her technique in ornamenting "Ernani, involami," but also proved capable of admirable subtlety, with some lovely pianissimo high notes. Elvira's character may be less than complex, but Meade gave an impassioned performance, making her credible as a determined woman. Roberto De Biasio, in the title role, suffered from some vocal difficulties in the first act but warmed up nicely. In such a static production, the ardor of Ernani as lover and fighter didn't quite come through, but De Biasio contributed sweet-toned and elegant singing, with nicely shaped phrases. Verdi's insistence on ending the opera with an unconventionally-placed trio was amply rewarded in this performance; it is only on stage, not in the pit, that the old order triumphs.

Production photos:

Curtain call photo:
Hvorostovsky, De Biasio, M. Armiliato, Meade, Furlanetto

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