excellent to see and hear real care lavished
on a Verdi opera that lies outside of the
accepted canon. Ernani dates from 1843-44,
making it contemporaneous with I due foscari
and placing it after I lombardi.
Good also to see Elijah Moshinsky’s sure directorial
hand at work, too, with stage space imaginatively
utilised and an atmospheric use of lighting.
I centres around Ernani, the bandit leader
(here Rhys Meirion) and his love for Elvira
(Cara O’Sullivan; Elvira is promised to the
aged Don Ruy Gomez de Silva). Dark colours
on stage, black draped cloth and dark mahogany
panels all contribute to an oppressive atmosphere.
Care also went into the orchestral contribution,
with Mark Shanahan extracting sonorous brass
playing and lovingly-shaded phrasing.
Meirion has previously sounded rather as if
he’s just wandered in from the Valleys, seemingly
rather alienated from the music he sings.
His Ernani is different (although he took
his time to warm into the part), but his voice
rang brightly in a way denied it at the Barbican
Theatre recently, as Tebaldo in Bellini’s
I Capuleti e I Montecchi). Act II (wherein
Ernani disguises himself as a pilgrim) revealed
him to be tremulous, yet his duet with Elvira
showed that it is in the tender passages that
he is at his best.
intended, Elvira, is rather popular in the
plot, for not only is there her true love,
but she is betrothed to her grizzled old uncle
and guardian, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva, as well
as receiving attentions form Don Carlo, the
King of Spain. Cara
took the part – later in the run, Claire Rutter
(who disappointed as Tosca in March) will
take over. O’Sullivan pitches extremely well
and has a very supple instrument in her voice.
Just a touch more depth of tone would complete
the picture, yet her lower register is sound,
as her duet with the King in Part 1 revealed,
and she is capable of much tenderness (the
duet with Ernani in Part II) as well as steely
resolution (Part IV). It would be interesting
to compare and contrast Rutter later in the
two other major roles are Don Ruy Gomez de
Silva (henceforth just Silva) and Don Carlo.
Bass Alastair Miles was magnificent as Silva,
in many ways the real star of the show, and
he certainly lived up to the drama of his
entrance (set against terrific back-lighting).
It was the eloquence of his subsequent singing
that impressed, plus his real stage presence
and real acting skills. His oath of revenge
in Part II was a highlight (marvellous, lovely
scoring by Verdi at this point).
that Silva and Don Carlo are pitted against
each other vocally in Part I, for baritone
Ashley Holland’s Carlo was rather put in the
shade. Holland’s credits include an Amfortas
(Parsifal) in Graz, something that
on present evidence seems difficult to imagine.
Yet his voice, if not of the greatest strength
and depth, is capable of great tonal variety
and he possesses a smooth legato. His real
chance to shine comes in Part III (‘Mercy’),
where he shows a possible incredible willingness
to pardon his enemies, a challenge Holland
smaller roles, Scott Davies’ Don Riccardo
(the King’s equerry) is a rather weak-voiced
assumption. Yet this production is greater
than the sum of its parts because of the sheer
strength of Verdi’s score. There are remarkably
few moments of rum-tee-tum accompaniment,
and it is a credit to Mark Shanahan that the
ENO orchestra played with unflagging enthusiasm
Domingo; Freni; La Scala/Muti EMI CDS7 47083-8
Pavarotti, Milnes, Raimondi, Met/Levine Pioneer
Photographer: Bill Rafferty