Well, the singing, most of it anyway, was very good. On Thursday the Met revived Ernani, the fifth of Verdi’s 28 operas. Although it was introduced here in 1903, this was only the 89th company performance.
The drama may have emerged creaky, the direction preposterous and the conducting timid. Still, two artists demonstrated the magnetic force of blood-and-guts bel-canto. Ferruccio Furlanetto, a youthful 62, ennobled the ominous utterances of old Silva with granitic strength, dignified passion and dauntless black-bass tone. Dmitri Hvorostovsky illuminated the majestic agonies of Carlo with rolling legato phrases, endless breath and poignant dynamic nuance. Confounding some predictions, he has become a Verdi baritone with few peers. Although golden age is a dangerously hyperbolic term, it actually may apply in these remarkable cases.
Roberto de Biasio, who inherited the title role from the late Salvatore Licitra, commands a bright, tightly focused tenor and a dashing, sympathetic demeanor. His pitch in ascending passages may not be impeccable, and he seldom bothers to sing softly. Nevertheless, he held his own honourably in daunting company. Young Angela Meade, the rather matronly Elvira, has a spinto soprano – the real thing – that cuts through the thickest ensemble with ease. She rides the high climaxes imposingly (sometimes overwhelming her partner in the process) and outlines ornate extensions with reasonable accuracy. Steadiness is not her strongest suit, however, and her tone turns shrill under pressure.
Marco Armiliato, the maestro on duty, had some trouble co-ordinating stage and pit. In fact, he had some trouble co-ordinating podium and pit.
Even so, sound outclassed sight. Pier Luigi Samaritani’s 28-year-old production, faithfully rehashed by Peter McClintock, features blank window-dressing sets dominated by stairways to nowhere, and an inaction scheme predicated on stand-pose-and-sing clichés. The whole enterprise looks like one of those hoary New Yorker cartoons.
Though loosely based on a Victor Hugo play, Ernani cannot boast a credibly vital libretto. Still, it deserves better than this. Much better.