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12 April, 2008

Ernani - Verdi - Metropolitan Opera New York.

Thursday 10th April 2008 7.30pm.

Ernani - Marcello Giordani
Elvira - Sondra Radvanovsky
Don Carlo - Thomas Hampson
de Silva - Ferruccio Furlanetto
Conductor - Roberto Abbado

Dear Colleagues,

The Met web site calls this opera a ‘gem’ yet this is being kind. While it has some of the most magnificent arias and choruses, the story is a mish mash of not just unlikely but ludicrous events, underlined by the theme ‘a slave of duty’ like the Pirates of Penzance, but without the humour. Both hero (a bandit) and villain (a nobleman) are bound by such serious personal honour that they would die before allowing themselves even a minor transgression of “the gentleman’s code”. A suspicious suitor turns out to be the king incognito while a pilgrim who arrives at a wedding turns out to be a rival who nobody happens to recognise before allowing him into the castle for alms and refuge.

Two glorious scenes occur in the first 20 minutes and one wonders if there could be anything else (there is!). Ernani sings of his lost love and his henchmen sing of their devotion and willingness to fight to get her back. They are standing on and below a large curving stairway around what looks like an open-cut coal seam as their brigands’ hide-out. Next scene is Elvira’s ‘Surte e la notte’, ‘Ernani, Ernani involarmi’ and ‘Tutto sprezzo’. Sondra Radvanovsky sang superbly and took all the hard options. This takes place in a massive palace room where she is confined. Massive drapes on an unseen window are billowing in the breeze reminding us of the great outdoors she is longing for. She sings part of her scene sitting on a sofa on the right side and moves around the stage as her thoughts progress.

The tenor has a major challenge in Act 2. ‘Odi il voto o grande Iddio’ has elements of ‘Ah la paterna mano’ from Macbeth as well as hints at ‘Ah si ben mio’. Next Ernani launches into a chorus ending with a ‘Di quella pira’ style cabletta, ‘Sprezzo la vita, ne piĆ¹ m'alletta’ ending the act on a magnificent ‘high’ combining ‘vendetta’ and true love. Mr Giordani’s performance was exciting and accurate in the theatre.

This makes two choruses swearing allegiance to their leaders and it appears that the whole opera revolves around keeping one’s oath and observation gentleman’s accepted codes of conduct. Other more personal things such as self, family, king and country are all subordinate to the ‘codes’ espoused here. Even to the point of ‘honour suicide’ on demand on one’s wedding day.

Anyone in these roles now has the inevitable comparison with the Met DVD of this production (with Pavarotti, Milnes, Mitchell and Raimondi). In this, Milnes ends his Act 3 ‘Oh de verd’anni miei’ with an almost unbelievable, ringing high A flat, sustained for over 5 seconds, sending the audience wild.

Mr Hampson sang with conviction and confidence as King Carlos. In the act 3 aria’s conclusion he touched uneasily on a high G in an otherwise ringing and exciting performance, finishing (correctly) on the lower A flat.

Ferrucio Furlanetto was excellent as the nobleman de Silva. His voice is warm and secure. He received a large ovation, as did all the other singers and conductor.

The finale sees the happiest scene turn ugly with the newly married Ernani hearing the horn-call of de Silva on whose sound he had promised to commit suicide ‘on that day’. He bids farewell to Elvira and stabs himself after which da Silva uses the same dagger to slash the bride’s throat giving us an extra corpse for the final curtain. This was not done in the original production and seems like a gratuitous excess to me. In a concert version of this final trio done by Sutherland and Pavarotti the bass-baritone role was played by Marilyn Horne, proving her versatility. It was splendid, unlike the full recording which was under-par in some respects, especially Sutherland’s worrying wobble by that time in her glorious career.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..