Ernani is the antepenultimate show in this Live-in-HD-at-the-Movies opera season from the Met. An old-fashioned opera, an old-fashioned production—it was nostalgia personified! One could sense it immediately when the roving cameras revealed that the Met’s majestic—and almost unique in today’s theater world—golden “Wagner” curtain was in place. (The many current modernized productions present their operas without any curtain.)
But nostalgia goes just so far.
True, some of the singing was inspired, but early Verdi has too many oompahpas and barely hints at the glories of Aida, Otello and Don Carlo to come. Pair that with a libretto filled with decided bathos; there is reason this opera is not performed too frequently.
Based on Victor Hugo’s (1830) play Hernani, its convoluted super-romantic plot does not do justice to the author who gave us the ever popular Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The over-the-top story plays on the importance of Spanish “honor,” so compelling that the hero (and heroine) commit suicide simply because of a verbal pledge to do so when the villain demands. Enough said!
For Verdi’s career Ernani, which premiered in 1844, proved a pivotal turn. It is the fifth of the 28 operas that were to span his (1813-1901) lifetime. It put him on the map. The melodrama is set in 16th century Spain and in the historically Aix-la-Chapelle in Aachen. It comes replete with old-fashioned arias, cabaletti and ensemble finales that call for four equally important singers. We had them here.
Ernani, the banished nobleman turned outlaw and true love of the coveted Elvira, was sung by the Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, who was not in the best form at this particular performance. But he died his suicide-for-honor’s-sake most admirably. The part of the elder, second suitor, the cruel Don de Silva, fell to Italy’s imposing basso Ferrucio Furnaletto. What a marvelous looking villain he makes and acts! Next in line for her unwilling hand was the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, his well known white mane strikingly present. New to his extended repertory, the role of the royal Don Carlo proved less than ideal for this gifted singer who has an almost “groupy” following.
The true vocal star was Angela Meade, the American soprano who is the lucky 2012 recipient of the Met’s Beverly Sills Award. She was a finalist in the 2007 Metropolitan National Council Audition. (The Audition, an entertaining documentary of that competition, aired on PBS at the time and is available on DVD.) Ms. Meade has a lovely, rich voice that she can control with enviable ease. She soared above the orchestra and chorus consistently. Unfortunately none of this can excuse her ungainly movements and lack of acting technique that rob her of persuasive interpretation of the part.
Full use was made of the vocally always-impressive Met chorus. The whole was held together neatly by the conductor Marco Armiliato who was backed up by the always outstanding Met orchestra. It is amazingly good at all times, in all genres of this wonderful art form.
You might recall that there was a wind-advisory announced for Westchester the Saturday of this performance. Well, it played havoc with the transmission in White Plains, to the extent that some people actually left because of the disturbing noise and the frequent momentary “breakup” of the picture and sound. It turned out to be caused by the ill-wind that only plagued the City Center theaters, sparing New Roc and some distant venues I queried about. None of this bothered me enough to leave. But then I need to stay to report to you, don’t I!
Here are some opinions from others who stayed the course:
Norman Wish of Bronxville and his wife, Marilla, inveterate opera goers who like the actual Met for the “atmosphere,” had never heard of Ernani before, but would see it again. Mr. Wish said he “liked the performance all around; appreciated the magnificent settings.” He liked the non-modernized approach, saying: “a period piece should be done in the period.”
Grace Shapiro of Hartsdale was totally turned off. “This amateurish performance did not involve the audience. Some people were snoring.” She thought none of the singers were in top form and was unimpressed by the heralded Angela Meade “who cannot act and does not have an outstanding voice.” Even Hvorostovsky, a favorite of hers, disappointed. “The part is not worthy of him.” She also took exception to the intermission moving-of-the-scenery features. “That is not what I want from the opera. It interrupted the mood completely. Originally in the HDs it was an informative idea, but as a steady diet, it has become annoying.”
Estelle Kissel of White Plains thought it was a wonderful performance. She especially praised Furnaletto and Meade. She also appreciated showing us the maneuvering of the sets backstage. “It shows the intricate challenges the Met faces with these daily repertory changes.” Ms. Kissel “liked everything except the story. And you can’t do anything about that, can you!”
Rhoda Fiddler of White Plains initially inherited Met tickets in row H that cost $250. She is thrilled with the affordable and convenient HDs, which she started attending about four years ago.
Gloria Frey of Dobbs Ferry also feels that the oompapahs of early Verdi do not compare to the greatness of Otello and Don Carlo to come. Not only did she pick the same operas I mentioned, she also commented on Meade’s lack of acting as Elvira. She said “today’s audiences expect more. Singers have to be able to act.” Ms. Frey thinks the HDs a “wonderful opportunity to widen the audience. “While it is not the same experience, if you go with the idea that it is different from a truly live performance, it will be quite all-right.”