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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ernani - dramma lirico in four acts (1844) [122.23]
Ernani, the bandit - Ramón Vargas (tenor)
Don Carlo, King of Spain - Ludovic Tézier (baritone)
Don Ruy de Silva, a Spanish grandee - Alexander Vinogradov (bass)
Elvira, Silva’s niece and loved by Ernani - Svetla Vassileva (soprano)
Don Riccardo, the King’s equerry - Maurizio Pace (tenor)
Jago, equerry to Silva - Gabriele Ribis (bass)
Giovanna, nurse - Karine Ohanyan (mezzo-soprano)
Monte-Carlo Opera Chorus / Chorus Master – Stefano Visconti)
Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra / Daniele Callegari (music director)
Stage director - Jean-Louis Grinda
Set design - Isabelle Partiot-Pieri
Costume design - Teresa Acone
Lighting design – Laurent Castaingt
Producer (Wahoo) – Frederic Allain
Film director – Stéphan Aubé
rec. live April 2014, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Filmed in High Definition and mastered from a HD source.
Picture format: 1080i/16.9
Sound formats:
a) Stereo LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz
Subtitle Languages: English, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese
ARTHAUS MUSIK 109345 Blu-ray [129 mins]

“It may be a good thing to copy reality; but to invent reality is much, much better.” Verdi (1876)

Verdi’s operatic dramma lirico in four acts Ernani was written to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and based on the colourful play Hernani by Victor Hugo. His fifth opera followed on directly after the first four, all introduced at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, notably with Nabucco and I Lombardi both premièred there in 1842. It seems that Verdi didn’t wish to risk another première at Italy’s foremost house so for Ernani he turned to Teatro la Fenice, Venice, the country’s second most renowned house, where it was introduced in March 1844. Ernani was Verdi’s first of eleven collaborations with Piave who was at the time a total novice as a librettist.

Much admired by opera audiences and frequently revived until the masterwork Il Trovatore was unveiled in 1853, Ernani was Verdi’s most popular opera. Its fortunes have changed and rather like Giovanna d'Arco, Stiffelio, Luisa Miller, Aroldo et al it is known more by name than by number of actual productions. In my lifetime renowned tenors Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti have played the title role and Leontyne Price and Montserrat Caballe graced the role of Elvira. On I notice that Ernani is now ranked as Verdi’s sixteenth most popular opera in terms of international performances in 2015/16.

In April 2014 stage director Jean-Louis Grinda brought his creative team together for his new staging of Ernani at Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monaco. I’m not sure why the film has taken nearly four years to appear on DVD/Blu-ray. Director Grinda has adopted a conservative approach in which nothing really jars. In a satisfyingly traditional staging designer Isabelle Partiot-Pieri has provided colourful sets which enable clear visualisation of the period of the early sixteenth century, mainly Spain and also at shrine of Charlemagne in Aachen. Partiot-Pieri’s clever use of drops and flats reduces the area of the stage which is not encumbered by props. This reduction in area allows the stage to look busier with the use of full length mirrors on the rear and side walls which produce some often rather strange visual effects. One such example is the set for the hall of Silva’s palace in Act Two consisting principally of a row of suits of armour (top half only) positioned on marble plinths with reflections in the mirrors serving to fill the space even more. In truth some of the camera work using the mirrors is angled from above which looks most odd.

Designed by Teresa Acone, it seems that no expense has been spared with the period costumes being both scrupulously detailed and clearly of high quality. It’s not just the principal cast members who look splendid, as the chorus wear more than one set of lavish costumes. For reasons I can’t understand the lighting designed by Laurent Castaingt often bathes the stage in a curious green tinge.

Four principal characters Ernani, Carlo, Silva and Elvira almost totally dominate the opera and the singers for the parts have been generally well chosen. At Semperoper Dresden in 2014 I was able to see Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas singing impressively in Jan Philipp Gloger’s staging of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. Leather clad here in the title role of Ernani the durable Vargas whose voice no longer has a ringing quality doesn’t disappoint, displaying his quick and heroic voice to convincing effect. Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva sings the part of the heroine Elvira who is coveted by three men. With long brown hair, Vassileva looks striking in her long, light-peach gown with maroon surcoat. Overall, when compared to the male principals, Vassileva’s performance is rather disappointing, receiving only a rather lukewarm reception from the audience. An experienced Verdian as well as a Puccini specialist Vassileva slides easily to her high notes and her ornamentation is satisfactory, however her voice now has a tendency towatrds unsteadiness requiring more variety and colour, and any allure is absent.

Taking the Lion’s share of the plaudits, and deservedly so, is French baritone Ludovic Tézier (baritone) as the lovestruck Don Carlo, King of Spain. Bearded and wearing a luxurious fur collared robe with gold chain of office Tézier, a most experienced Verdian, is in compelling voice being highly secure from start to finish. Tézier’s smooth and attractive tone is noteworthy, highly expressive, together with a distinct stage presence. In the role of the Spanish grandee Silva, described by Elvira as “a loathsome old man”, Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov is another Verdi specialist. With his long grey hair and beard Vinogradov looks imposing in his long dark coat and wide fur collar. Highly engaging, Vinogradov’s voice is perfect for the role being steadfast, deep and resonant.

Well drilled by chorus master Stefano Visconti, the Monte-Carlo Opera Chorus makes a considerable impression. Under Daniele Callegari the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra display rhythmic resilience with generally well-chosen speeds. Recorded live in 2014 during a series of productions at Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monaco film director Stéphan Aubé’s work is not always to my taste especially those camera shots from elevated angles using the mirrors. No audience can be seen on the film; only the stage and orchestra pit are visible.

There are no problems at all with the quality of the sound which is the usual choice of stereo or surround. The accompanying booklet is generally disappointing. Although there is a track listing and an essay to provide some context no detailed synopsis is included, and the liner notes can’t even get the spelling of Svetla Vassileva correct. Curiously, I could find no Italian (native language) option available on the subtitles.

This Blu-ray of Jean-Louis Grinda’s impressive staging of Verdi’s Ernani is engagingly performed on Arthaus Musik.

Michael Cookson



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