Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ernani und Isolde; New Twists from Met Live-in-HD

In the scripted introductory segment to the Met Live-in-HD transmission of Verdi's Ernani, host Joyce DiDonato described its plot as "convoluted." Anthony Tommasini's review began with the idea that "even with several strong contenders for the title, 'Ernani' may have the most implausible plot of any Verdi opera." And Met commentator William Berger wrote in his book on Verdi operas that the story "is a trial to modern patience."

The problem? It is not. Not necessarily.

With strong performances by Ferruccio Furlanetto as Silva and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Carlos, and a sudden plot twist at the ending, this production forged some new possibilities and insights.

Hvorostovsky brought an elegance to the self-reflective arias of Carlos. He revealed subtle clashes of style in adjacent passages of the music by altering vowel shadings and placements. In the Act II aria "Lo vedremo, veglio audace," Hvorostovsky contrasted bluesy bel canto phrases with singing that seemed to absorb the military sounding trumpet that occasionally doubled the vocal part. There was more wry humor in the music for Carlos than I realized.

Furlanetto channeled pure evil and made total destruction seem a natural consequence. He made Ernani respond to his vortex; it was the musical force of Silva's singing and not the exercise of an honor code that led to Ernani's suicide.

And in a great twist at the end, Angela Meade as Elvira grabbed the knife from Ernani after he stabbed himself and plunged it into her own heart. Both of them fell to the stage floor to sing the final duet as they both died. It was music that seemed as tense and eerie as the key of G major could ever sound. The opera closed in this tonality that seemed as distant and cold as the single figure left alone on the stage: Furlanetto.

This production was entertaining in the cinema. The camera angles helped to create subtle movement onscreen even when the characters themselves were standing still. The filming created impulse that was not distracting but rather seemed to add to the development of the music and the plot.

We also got to hang out with Stephen Diaz, the Met's master carpenter. During the amazing set change between scene 1 and 2 of Act I and between Act 3 and 4 his voice was transmitted continuously into the theater. He issued the most unlikely commands like "don't trap the foliage." Gotta love it.

So from here on out let's agree that any reference to the plot of Ernani as being convoluted or implausible is trite. Why create extra barriers to distance ourselves from it?

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