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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Opera Review: That Wacky Bandit

Tenor Marcello Giordani in Ernani.
Ernani at the Met.
On Monday, March 18, the Metropolitan Opera opened its first performance of Verdi’s Ernani in a quarter of a century with powerhouse tenor Marcello Giordani giving a stirring performance of the title role.

Written in the incubating fires of the Italian Risorgimento, Ernani is a setting of a fiery Victor Hugo play about a love-struck bandit whose code of honor is so strict that it eventually causes him to commit suicide on his wedding day.

Yeah. I know.

But the silliness of the plot didn’t stop Mr. Giordani from tearing up the stage. This tenor has been singing lead roles at the big house for the last decade (I first saw him as a memorable des Grieux opposite Renée Fleming in Massenet's Manon) and his instrument has evolved. He has a ringing top register, a smooth middle, and, when necessary, a serviceable low end. He looks the part of a dashing Italianate opera hero and is a believable actor, even in the silliest parts.

Ferrucio Furlanetto, a 20-year veteran of the Met stage, dominated his scenes in the key role of Silva. Honorable to a fault, Silva gets the better of the bandit in the final act. Mr. Furlanetto, who came up through the Salzburg Festival under the wing of conductor Herbert von Karajan, has had a long, varied international career. His fine basso cantante voice remains a pleasure to hear. A compelling presence, physically and vocally, his performance was the bedrock upon which this Ernani rested.

American super-baritone Thomas Hampson also gave a typically intelligent performance as Don Carlo, the King of Spain who becomes Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in the third act. Although he seemed outclassed by the other two male leads, Mr.  Hampson managed to seize to spotlight in the climactic third act, when Charles seizes power.

Caught in the middle: Elvira, one of the great Verdi heroines. She was sung by soprano Sondra Radnavovsky,  who coped admirably with the role's difficult tessitura despite being hobbled by a cold. It's not easy being caught in the middle of this opera, forced to struggle with Verdi's acrobatic vocal writing that almost stems from another era, and she more than met to this role's difficult requirements. Roberto Abbado's conducting didn't quite have the same fire as his singers, but kept the composer's rhythms moving nicely along.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.