Ernani, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012Posted on 26 February 2012
After Verdi’s first four operas were premiered at La Scala, La Fenice in Venice commissioned the fifth, and the composer eventually plumped for Victor Hugo’s play Hernani, a drama on Castillian honour. The resulting opera Ernani may lack the irony and humour of the original play, but it supplies four glorious roles for soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass. Requiting Spanish honour leads to the death of the soprano and tenor right at the end of this production, and in the play the man sung by a bass kills himself too.
This is Don Ruy Gomez De Silva, sung by Ferruccio Furlanetto, who inhabited the role of passionate yet honourable Spanish nobleman as if it was entirely his own nature. Here is a man who will protect an intruder with his life, once he has been accepted as guest, even though the intruder turns out to be his rival Ernani. This is the tenor, who appears in the first scene as leader of the bandits, and is love with De Silva’s ward, Elvira. She is adored by tenor, bass, and the baritone, King Carlos of Spain. The opera takes place in 1519 when Carlos is about to be elected Holy Roman Emperor, becoming Charles V, whose ghost appears in Verdi’s later opera Don Carlo. Here he is a very young man, portrayed with utter conviction by Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
After an unpromising start in the overture and the bandit camp, the scene changes to Elvira’s apartment in the castle and Angela Meade raised the level of performance hugely with her wonderful soliloquy expressing love for Ernani and distaste for De Silva. This young soprano produced wonderful trills and lovely soft sounds, and her aria in this scene was a tour de force. The later trio with Elvira, Ernani and Don Carlo came over beautifully, and Marcello Giordani sang strongly with the others, though he seemed to be straining in his own solos, particularly in the higher register. After De Silva enters and has been fobbed off with a story about what is going on in his castle, Furlanetto is left alone to sing a riveting monologue, wishing that his heart had become chilled with age rather than full of youthful ardour. Such wonderful singing from Furlanetto, and from Hvorostovsky, particularly when he shows Carlo’s strength and determination in Act III.
This early Verdi contains a wealth of beautiful music, and though the characters may not carry the interest inherent in many of his later operas, the singers turned in gripping performances, and I’m delighted the Met have broadcast it. The costumes by Peter J. Hall are wonderful, the camera work by Barbara Willis Sweete cleverly showed the full effect of the stage, and the chorus was magnificent. Marco Armiliato in the orchestra pit gave huge support to the singers, and there was a real bounce to the music immediately the chorus sang at the start of Act I.
The interval features were not up to the Met’s usual high standard. Joyce DiDonato looked awkward in her red dress, and seemed surprisingly wooden with the principals, though more comfortable with regular employees of the opera house, such as chorus director Donald Palumbo. And why do we need to hear the voice of the master carpenter as the scenery is shifted around? But Peter Gelb is an engaging presence, and his mouth-watering description of next season’s cinema highlights was a delight.