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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Ernani, Lyric drama in four parts (1844)
Ernani, a bandit and former aristocrat, Ramon Vargas (ten); Don Carlo, King of Spain and aspiring Emperor, Ludovic Tézier (bar); Don Ruy de Silva, a Spanish grandee and guardian of Elvira, Alexander Vinogradov (bass); Elvira, Silva’s niece and loved by Ernani, Svetla Vassileva (sop); Don Riccardo, the King’s equerry, Maurizo Pace (ten); Jago, equerry to Silva, Gabriele Ribis (bass)
Orchestra and chorus of the Monte Carlo Opera, Monaco/Daniele Caligari
Director, John-Luis Grinda
Set Designer, Isabelle Partiot-Pieri
Costume Designer, Teresa Acone
Lighting, Laurent Costaingt.
Film Director, Stéphan Aubé
Sound format, PCM Stereo. DD 5.1. Picture Format, 16:9
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
Notes and synopsis in, English, French and German ARTHAUS MUSIK 109344 DVD [130 mins]
Ernani, Verdi’s 5th opera is based on Victor Hugo’s play Hernani. It was first performed at the Teatro la Fenice, Venice, on 9th March 1844. It follows directly after Nabucco and I Lombardi, premiered at La Scala in March 1842 and February 1843 respectively. These works had been resounding successes and placed the thirty-year-old Verdi alongside his older compatriot, Donizetti, at the forefront of Italian opera composers. When the Society that owned the Gran Teatro la Fenice in Venice assembled to decide on the names of opera composers for the coming season Verdi was high on their list. La Fenice was La Scala’s biggest rival in Northern Italy and was the theatre, where Rossini had won international fame with Tancredi in 1813, after which he was escorted to his lodgings by a flotilla of gondolas, a water borne band playing a selection from his score. A success in Venice had its own particular flavour and the prospect was an attraction for Verdi. Such was Ernani‘s success that it turned the composer into an international star and was, at the time, widely considered by some as his best work until Il Trovatore. However, it later shared the neglect of other of the composer’s earlier works. This production, shared with the Opéra Royal de Wallonie was the first to be seen at Opéra de Monte-Carlo since 1917. In my own sixty plus years of opera going, I have only seen it live in one production, shared by Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music and Welsh National Opera, enjoying performances by both organisations.
This production is largely traditional and costumed in period. One can easily relate the action to the story, although de Silva’s excessive whiskers of are more like a child’s fairy tale than that likely to be found on a Spanish grandee. However, it is not without its producer’s concept, which involves the generous use of a mirror, the producer reckoning its use helps to show the divided lives of the characters! I personally found the use confusing, at times, the story in part one, particularly when the filming was from above. Often the stage seems rather dark. None the less, the multinational cast under Italian Musical Director of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Daniele Callegari, provides a vibrant and satisfyingly dramatic performance that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The solo singing is good, at times reaching the very highest standard, with none of the soloists letting the side down. In the eponymous role the Mexican tenor, Ramon Vargas, with his bright lyric tenor and clear diction, acts and sings well throughout as evidenced in his opening Mercé diletti amici and Dell’esilio nei dolore (Ch. 3). It is pleasing that Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva’s following Surta é la notte (Chs.4-5) is equally pleasurable, particularly her trill, albeit the use of the mirror confused me momentarily as to what was happening. The highest quality of singing comes with the entrance of Don Carlo. sung by French baritone Ludovic Tézier with smooth expressive mellifluous tone (Chs 6-8). It is particularly pleasing that he maintains this standard throughout the performance and it is matched by committed acting. The third man who loves Elvira is Don Ruy de Silva, her guardian, sung by Russian bass, Alexander Vinogradov. Apart from looking silly in his excessive whiskers, he too is a vocal strength throughout, if lacking a little of the depth of tone of some of his illustrious predecessors and rivals in the Verdi bass repertoire. He sings with smooth legato and clear diction (Chs. 10-11).
Of equal importance as the soloists in early Verdi is the presence of a well-toned and vibrant chorus, whose presence is evident and welcome in this performance.
A thoroughly enjoyable performance and staging. I wish that directors would give us more like this rather than massage their own egos, often inflicting stage concepts or updating that are barely relevant to story and the composer’s intentions. Robert J Farr
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