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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Ernani

This well-worn but classic Met production returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Angela Meade is Elvira in the Met's revival of Ernani.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's ornate production of Verdi's Ernani returns with Francesco Meli in the title role and James Levine on the podium. Lovers of bel canto style will swoon at the return of Angela Meade in the leading role of Elvira. 

Verdi's fifth opera (and his second hit after Nabucco) is based on Victor Hugo's Hernani, the story of a gentleman bandit. However you spell it, Ernani is about honor. In fact, the title character is so honorable that he commits suicide at the end of the opera, (because the baritone asks him to) rather than marry the girl.

Ernani is primarily a vehicle for a star tenor to act the part of a Spanish Robin Hood. But the opera also has strong ensembles, bringing out the fiery interplay between Ernani, the honor-obsessed villain Silvio, and Elvira, the woman who the two men wrangle over.

This production (from 1983) was first mounted for Luciano Pavarotti. In this run of performances, star tenor-turned-baritone Plácido Domingo becomes his own grandfather. Here he's Don Carlo, who becomes  the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the course of the opera. (Carlo is also the grandfather of the title character of the later Verdi opera Don Carlo, a role Mr. Domingo has sung many times.)

Ernani opens at the Metropolitan Opera on March 23, 2015. 

Recording Recommendation:
There are about four recordings of Ernani in the catalogue. Here's two I've heard:

RCA Italiana Orchestra and Chorus cond. Thomas Schippers
Ernani: Carlo Bergonzi
Elvira: Leontyne Price
Silvio: Mario Serena
Carlo: Ezio Flagello
The chief attraction here is Carlo Bergonzi, in fine red-blooded form as the bandit with a heart. He is expertly matched with Leontyne Price, caught here in her early prime. Thomas Schippers, who regularly ran the controls in the Met pit in the pre-Levine era, conducts.

Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala cond. Riccardo Muti
Ernani: Plácido Domingo
Elvira: Mirella Freni
Silvio: Renato Bruson
Carlo: Nicolai Ghiaurov
One of Riccardo Muti's better early Verdi recordings, a live reading that is less mannered than some. Domingo sings his chest out in the title role. Mirella Freni is in good form. Her late husband (Ghiaurov) is a bit faded and worn here, as is Bruson.

Tickets for Ernani are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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