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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ernani – Opera in 4 acts (1844)
Ernani – Mario Del Monaco (tenor); Don Carlo – Leonard Warren (baritone); Silva – Cesare Siepi (bass); Elvira – Zinka Milanov (soprano); Don Riccardo – James McCracken (tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos
rec. live, New York, 29 December 1956. MONO
ANDROMEDA ANDRCD 9005 [72.05+52.13]

I don’t know whether it’s intentional but there are a few things in this archival operatic album that are missing. For a start, there is no mention that the original recordings were made by Cetra, nor is there any mention of who digitally remastered it and when. There are no genuine cover-notes and I’ve had to rely on other sources including drawing on notes accompanying other Ernani recordings to enlighten me on plot and general information. To make matters worse the ‘notes’ that are available are misleading; not because of what is included but because of what has been omitted. For example, the track information supplied by Andromeda only mentions the character originating the aria without bothering to add those who join later. This is very disconcerting when you’re trying to figure out who is singing. Track 18 CD 1 only mentions Don Carlo singing but is, in fact, a duet with Silva; track 6 CD 2 once again only lists Don Carlo but is an ensemble piece with the whole cast involved including the chorus. The note for track 7 CD 2 shows the chorus singing for 11:44 when, in fact, it features the orchestra playing various interludes; the only input from the chorus - and here I am guessing - is some rhythmic clapping near the end.

What I originally found intriguing, however, was the prospect of listening to the galaxy of wonderful singers that only opera houses like the Met and Covent Garden can afford to muster on a single stage. To this you can add prospect of Mitropoulos conducting. In that respect I was not entirely disappointed.

The cast was exceptional, although Zinka Milanov as Elvira at times seemed to take her top notes by relying more on memory than trying to prepare them properly. Generally she didn’t bother with any form of expression in her singing until the finale when she probably realised that singing is more about trying to move an audience than overpowering them with volume.

Another in the ‘biff and bash’ brigade was Mario Del Monaco as Ernani although with him the voice was certainly more secure and he managed to save the day with some truly heroic singing. There are some singers you know are going to belt the daylights out of any aria; Del Monaco is one of them. After you’ve made allowances for his lack of subtlety you are left with a wonderful ringing tone and an admiration for its dramatic qualities. He was then 41 years old and probably at the height of his powers.

Both Leonard Warren as Don Carlo and Cesare Siepi as Silva were excellent. Even without seeing them perform you felt they knew what their characters were intending to convey – Warren, imperially aloof as Don Carlo while at times brooding and reflective as in Oh de’ verd’anni miei and Silva, conspiratorially elusive. His bass voice was best heard in Infelice! E tuo credevi.

Mitropoulos didn’t disappoint either although there appeared to be some hesitation in entries on a couple of occasions from the principals. But that is to be expected in a live recording.

Verdi was emerging from his apprentice stage when he composed this opera and the influence of other composers was evident, none more so than in the finale of Act 3. The ensemble Oh sommo Carlo, piu del tuo nome clearly echoes Donizetti’s sextet from ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’. But Verdi soon realised he could make it by being his own man. ‘Rigoletto’ and ‘La Traviata, composed less than a decade later, proved that.

Randolph Magri-Overend 



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