[Met Performance] CID:274530

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, November 18, 1983

Debut : Pier Luigi Samaritani

Ernani (50)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Luciano Pavarotti

Leona Mitchell

Don Carlo
Sherrill Milnes

Don Ruy Gomez de Silva
Ruggero Raimondi

Jean Kraft

Don Riccardo
Charles Anthony

Richard Vernon

James Levine

Pier Luigi Samaritani [Debut]

Costume Designer
Peter J. Hall

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Ernani received twenty-three performances this season.

Production gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa

Review 1:

Review of Martin Mayer in Opera Magazine

America: Outstanding 'Ernani'

New York: The METROPOLITAN OPERA gave its absolute centennial best to Verdi's Ernani. No other conductor of James Levine's stature would take this opera so seriously, think so carefully through the differentiation of the waltzes, the opportunities for ritardandos and accelerandos, the varieties of phrasing invited by the composer's rather short lines. Although Pier Luigi Samaritani's production does not in fact follow Piave's instructions (except for Elvira's spectacularly Moorish bedroom the opera, which Verdi and Piave saw as an essentially domestic affair, it is set out of doors, with massive cobblestone walls and giant stone stairways), he really does understand and care about what the 19th century saw in this Victor Hugo melodrama. The last man to believe in the plot of Ernani was Bernard Shaw, who wrote in 1892 that 'the chief glory of Victor Hugo as a stage poet was to have provided libretti for Verdi.' But Samaritani convinces us that he is not ashamed of what he is asking the audience to believe. And he has made a virtue of the fact that his singers were not especially accomplished as actors by staging the work as a group of tableaux vivants behind gauzes, with chiaroscuro lighting of the kind Spanish artists were in process of stealing from the Dutch while Carlo Quinto was trying to steal the girl from Don Juan de Cordoba.

Levine's cast was the best that contemporary opera can offer, and satisfactory even by Golden Age standards. Luciano Pavarotti sang as well as he has since his earliest years in this country, and even undertook to learn and sing a new second-act finale for tenor and chorus, which Verdi added to the opera later in the year of its composition. In this aria as in his first-act plea to the brigands he offered not only that sweetness some of us had thought was gone forever (and the exactitude of diction that will never go) but also a fidelity to Levine's leadership as touching as it was intelligent.

Leona Mitchell is not quite in that league as Elvira, though she may be some day. This may be unfair: the last Elvira in New York was Leontyne Price, and it was arguably her greatest role; the echoes of her performance still ring in our ears, and her essentially regal interpretation made Miss Mitchell seem more than a little mousy. Still, she sang the role, which has a range of more than two octaves, not only handsomely but accurately. And, in fairness, she gave us a real trill, which Pavarotti did not even attempt. Her problem is presence, both musical and dramatic, and that can still come with time.

The special triumph of the evening was that of Sherrill Milnes, rumoured to be sick. There must have been something to it, because he moved carefully, in his case an excellent thing, and sang cautiously-but oh, so beautifully. The role of Carlo has, I think, the highest tessitura of any of the Verdi baritone roles; 'Vieni meco', the second-act love song to Elvira, is essentially in the tenor register. Milnes sang it in a luscious, creamy piano, with not even a hint of falsetto, and with the professional projection that allowed the caress of his voice to be felt all over the enormous theatre. He was not quite at that standard when he had to sing out in the third act, but the only comparison that could fault him was with his own best work.

As Silva, Ruggiero Raimondi was suitably old, stiff and villainous, and after a touch of pitch uncertainty at the very beginning of 'Sia ognun testimon' he sang richly as well as fluidly. Samaritani buried him amongst the chorus in the third-act finale, which may have been a mistake musically as well as dramatically, for his offended honour was simply lost in its surroundings at precisely the moment when it should be casting shadows before it.

But all this is nit-picking. What counts in a revival of Ernani, after all, is Verdi, and he was wonderfully well served. I suppose distaste for Ernani is legitimate: it is the most aggressively popular of the operas, an endless flow of tunes most of which could be danced to without further ado. Except perhaps for Carlo's third-act aria, the tunes are expressive of situation more than of

character (in expressing situations, though, they do give indications of what is to come: the brief fourth-act duet for Ernani and Elvira at the end of the party leads straight to the first-act finale of Otello so many years later).

Levine took everything briskly, asserting the masculine fire of early Verdi. He was fast to express the drive of the piece, not (as so often happens) because he was afraid that otherwise people might lose interest. His orchestra, now capable of the greatest delicacy, played rough and dirty for him, as he wanted. The chorus sang loud and clear and very accurately. Everyone, from Pavarotti to the extras, was obviously having a whale of a time, and the enthusiasm was catching.

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