[Met Performance] CID:173230

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, November 23, 1956

Debut : Melissa Hayden, Esteban Frances

Ernani (24)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Mario Del Monaco

Zinka Milanov

Don Carlo
Leonard Warren

Don Ruy Gomez de Silva
Cesare Siepi

Helen Vanni

Don Riccardo
James McCracken

George Cehanovsky

Melissa Hayden [Debut]

Pierre Lacotte

Dimitri Mitropoulos

Dino Yannopoulos

Esteban Frances [Debut]

Zachary Solov

Ernani received eight performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Paul Henry Lang in The New York Herald Tribune

The performance was notable for some excellent singing by singers with great voices, something that these days is occasionally-of secondary importance in an opera house. Zinka Milanov (Elvira) could do little but sing in this opera because that's all there is for her to do. At first her beautifully flowing soprano sounded edgy and a bit off center, but beginning with the second act she found herself and satisfied all demands...

Cesare Siepi was the elderly Spanish grandee, Silva, who has a taste for sweet sixteen but has to be very noble about it. He weathered the ordeal without losing caste and managed to sing nicely while so doing. At times, though, his fine voice does not settle unequivocally on the desired pitch.

Mario Del Monaco (Ernani) had a role that suites his style. Put him on the stage in a dashing costume, preferably a cape that can be flung over, and let him toss out those ringing high notes, f.o.b. entrance, and he won't disappoint anyone. There is not much subtlety in all this, but it stops the show...

The principal role in "Ernani" belongs to the baritone. In Leonard Warren, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, came to life with truly imperial splendor. Every one knows that Mr. Warren can portray all the manly virtues with appropriately glorious vocalism, but those who listened attentively when he sang his quiet cavatina in the second act must have realized the full measure of this great artist's capabilities.

The new sets and costumes by Esteban Frances were attractive and picturesque, and the stage direction, severely limited by the absurd libretto, resourceful. Mr. Yannopoulos had no easy task with that. I must say though that the light-reflecting sequins they hung on every square inch of Mr. Warren's imperial costume, fore and aft, and even on his puttees, was quite midwayish. They would suffice for all the road signs from here to Charlemagne's tomb. A subdued guffaw went up all over the house when Carlo made his blinding entrance...

Mr. Mitropoulos puzzled me. He is an old opera hand with a commanding musical personality who, in past seasons, gave us a finely balanced "Masked Ball." It was within his power to make this period piece more palatable to modern audiences, yet he emphasized the trivial features...

The tempos, especially in the large ensembles and in the ballet were very fast; the conductor took a minuet-like piece at a clip that would wind a sprinter...However, Mr. Mitropoulos kept things neatly together, the accompanied recitatives were exemplary, and if he can curb his penchant for extremes in tempo and dynamics, this could become one of his really good pieces.

Review 2:

Review of "Land" in Variety

Ernani: Met Opera with Ballet

Verdi has been the great stock-in-trade of the Bing reign; the number of old works given new production at the Met now being expanded to include "Ernani." This opera lacks the full talent and technique present in the more mature works of the same genius, but there are lots of singing opportunities for the four principals and - it should be added - plenty of Italianate hambone for the men to chew on.

In this libretto, derived from Victor Hugo, there is a magic horn. Because of a vow to kill himself if the horn blows, Ernani must plunge the dagger in the sight of his bride and die on the steps - first carefully falling into position to emit one of those oldstyle operatic expirations in which the corpse was never in better voice. Ernani is Mario Del Monaco. In picking out a comfortable spot on the steps, he was more tenor than actor, but as the not-tiny Zinka Milanov bent over his prostrate form the need for Del Monaco being well-positioned to support both his voice and his stage bride was obvious.

If this death scene avoids absurdity, thanks to the popularity of the tenor and the diva and the sheer good will of the spectators, and if in other respects "Ernani" rates as creaky Verdi, it is Verdi nonetheless. and there is a good deal to enjoy, especially Leonard Warren as King Carlo of Spain. Alone of the four principals, he seemed from start to finish not only in exquisite artistic coordination but "up" in the part and the score. Milanov, Del Monaco and Cesare Siepi started uncertainly even tightly, and seemed much enamored of the prompter. However, all had scoring innings later. (Mitropoulos conducted).

Standees and other characters in the opera house last Friday (23) sported "Viva Zinka" buttons (possibly not to be outdone in loyalty by the clamorous youth up the street at the Paramount film palace who are currently displaying "I Like Elvis" buttons in honor of another singer). However, this was not one of Milanov's great nights or roles, the soprano here being passive rather than catalytic in both the plot and score.

"Ernani" is much brightened by a ballet in, the fourth act and Melissa Hayden aroused spontaneous outbursts of recognition as a disciplined dancer of sure command and prima quality. Since she was substituting for the injured Moylan, the Met program gave courtesy credit to the New York City Center Ballet. Possibly because he was not accustomed to working with Miss Hayden, Pierre Lacotte was insecure in his lifts. When performing alone he was not always with it (the music) and seemed more technically proficient than artistically sharp. Zachary Solov's choreography, working with the staircase and somewhat cramped stage space, exhibited freshness and novelty values. This was probably the best showing to date of the Met ballet.

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