The Metropolitan Opera – Ernani

Ernani – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Hernani by Victor Hugo [sung in Italian with English Met Titles]

Elvira – Sondra Radvanovsky
Ernani – Marcello Giordani
Don Carlo – Thomas Hampson
de Silva – Ferruccio Furlanetto
Giovanna – Wendy White
Jago – Keith Miller
Don Riccardo – Ryan Smith

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Roberto Abbado

Pier Luigi Samaritani – Production & Set Designer
Peter J. Hall – Costume Designer
Gil Wechsler – Lighting Designer
Peter McClintock – Stage Director

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 17 March, 2008
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

Premiered in 1844 when Verdi was 31 years old, “Ernani” is the composer’s fifth opera which, according to the program notes by Leighton Kerner, “provided him with his first full-fledged international renown.” The Met has staged it intermittently since 1903, usually with stellar casts; the most recent televised production in 1983 under James Levine featured Sherill Milnes, Ruggiero Raimondi, Leona Mitchell, and Luciano Pavarotti in the title role.

Marcello Giordani as Ernani. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Met Opera While no tenor today can rival the sheer beauty of Pavarotti’s sound at the height of his power, Marcello Giordani’s singing is nowhere near that level. Throughout the evening his pitch was unsteady; he often approached notes from below and squeezed up into them, a far cry from his predecessor’s easy and accurate production. His rhythm was suspect as well; more than once he ran ahead. There were some pleasant sounds here and there, but overall he disappointed. Emphatic acting and dramatic presentation could not make up for his vocal inadequacies.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Elvira. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Met OperaIt had been announced that Sondra Radvanovsky was suffering from a virus; her stage presence, however, showed no signs of weakness. A consummate actress, she fully embodied the part of Elvira, in love with Ernani, betrothed to her uncle de Silva, and held hostage by Don Carlo. Unfortunately her most important aria, ‘Ernani, involami’, occurs early in the opera when she seemed not quite warmed up and delivered some piercing top notes. This aside, she sang it with great flair and musicality and subsequently made the most, dramatically and vocally, of the otherwise almost-minor role.

Thomas Hampson as Don Carlo. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Met Opera This is a men’s opera, even extending to the mostly-male chorus that has a prominent role. Elvira may be the woman all three of the main characters are after, but it is their struggle and their emotions which drive the work. Thomas Hampson has been making forays into the heavier Verdi roles such as “Simon Boccanegra”. His voice has taken on slightly more heft over the years, yet he still is best in the more intimate and expressive repertoire, and he delivered a moving ‘O sommo Carlo’ at the end of the third act. However, one often missed the dramatic vocal declamation of a true Verdi baritone, and the richness of the low register this role requires.

Ferruccio Furlanetto, on the other hand, effortlessly projected to the back of the hall with his deep, rich bass. Now in his late 50s, he has absorbed Verdi’s style thoroughly and has the voice, technique and artistry to draw an audience into both the misery and cruelty of de Silva. It was he who was the focal point of this performance.

Pier Luigi Samaritani’s costumes are of the period, as are the sets. Rather than the full tableaux of a Zefirelli, he uses only a few realistic pieces to indicate location – brick walls for the conspirators’ lair, a huge door, a bed and a very large painting for the first scene in de Silva’s castle (which drew applause), sweeping staircases in various configurations later on. It is an economy of means which works very well, traditional sets without overwhelming the action with too much detail.

The Met Orchestra grappled valiantly with this unfamiliar score, under Roberto Abbado. Not surprisingly he has incorporated some of Claudio Abbado’s gestures into his expressive language, most notably in the use of the left hand. But he lacks his uncle’s artistry, dramatic presence and authority; entrances were often tentative and ensemble between pit and stage shaky. Hopefully things will improve as everyone gets more comfortable with this little-known work.

  • Further performances scheduled for March 21, 26 & 29, and April 2, 5 & 10
  • Metropolitan Opera

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