Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Second-tier Verdi, or the Best of the Rest

I have a confession to make.  At my advanced age, and as much as I call myself an opera queen bel canto bear, there are some chestnuts I simply haven't ever seen.  Der Fliegende Hollander.  Macbeth.  Manon.  Until last night, Ernani was on that list, too.  I was excited to see it because it's Verdi and because the star was Angela Meade.  I can happily say that neither Mr. Verdi nor Ms. Meade disappointed me.

Ernani is the fifth of Mr. Verdi's 28 operas.  I'd call it second-tier Verdi, among the best of the rest.  It's not Rigoletto or La Traviata, but it's not without charm or merit.  The story is based on a play by Mr. Hugo of Les Miserables fame, whose play Le Roi s'Amuse later provided the inspiration for Rigoletto.  The libretto is by Mr. Piave, with a lot of input from Mr. Verdi.  The story is typically upper-case-R Romantic:  Boy loves girl.  Old fart loves girl.  King loves girl. (She certainly did get around!)  In the end boy and girl are "united in Heaven" and nobody gets what he wants. Except for the King, who becomes the Holy Roman Emperor and doesn't mind about the girl so much any more.  All of this happens to stunning music by Verdi, with typically sweeping melodies and rhythmically driven orchestral accompaniments.

Photo by Devon Cass
I've written before about my affection for Angela's singing.  (We're on first names basis since I did a profile of her.)  I love the even sound throughout her very wide range, the color of her voice, the apparent ease with which she sings just about everything.  I saw her Norma at Caramoor in 2010, her Anna Bolena last October at the Met, and now her Elvira in Ernani.  Yep. She's got the goods.  Last night I heard a more burnished sound, a greater richness to her already beautiful voice.  And of course she looked fabulous!

A very accomplished tenor recently pointed out to me that the reason Mr. Pavarotti was so successful in Verdi roles that might seem like a stretch for a lyric voice is that the roles lie very high--passaggio and above, where Pavarotti really shone.  Often today I hear singers with large voices who appear to focus so much on a big sound that they don't seem to have the brilliance in their high voices that they're capable of.  One such tenor is young Roberto De Biasio, last night's Ernani.  He is a good singer, to be sure, and he's certainly working in very prestigious houses, but to my ear he is not on the same level as the rest of the cast.

Courtesy MetOperaFamily.org
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, that white-maned barihunk, sang Don Carlo, and I must say I was enthralled.  Even from the balcony, I was impressed by his imposing presence, and his singing was beautiful and smooth and, like Ms. Meade's sounded easy.  Listening to this man's singing is always a pleasure.  Ferruccio Furlanetto, even at 62, can hold us spellbound with his singing and his presence.  He deserved the huge ovation he was awarded at the end of the opera.

The Met chorus and orchestra are always fabulous, but I must say there seemed to be some occasional differences of opinion between them and conductor Marco Armiliato, which is quite unusual in my recent experience.

And I can't say I'm crazy about the directing.  I think several of the singers could have used much stronger direction, and I was not kidding when I tweeted at intermission "I don't have a score in front of me--does it say 'Chorus mills about randomly'?"

So to sum up the evening:  Singing, fabulous overall; conducting, usually pretty good; directing, meh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A favorite buddy on Bear-World (whose name I won't mention) also loves Ms. Meade. I hope to actually hear hear - sadly I keep missing her performances. One day, I may even hear her live!