Young and old lions roar in Met’s retro “Ernani”
The sentiment of Friday’s performance of Ernani at the Metropolitan opera could be summed up in a single image from the second scene of the first act. Plácido Domingo stood alone stage left, a king revealed in his full glory, while the entire cast and chorus knelt in awe before him. Even with the starry presences of Angela Meade and James Levine, the performance felt in many ways like another Domingo victory lap.
New Yorkers packed the house on Friday in their own show of appreciation; but rather than remembrances of incandescent performances from earlier in the tenor’s career, what the audience saw from the revival of Pier Luigi Samaritani’s gilded 1983 production was closer to an opera in concert, though not through any fault particular to Domingo.
Watching him extend his career by adding baritone roles to his repertoire has been exciting, though some forays have been more successful than others. When he appeared as Germont-père in La Traviata two seasons ago, a hint of weariness only informed his character, and his unusually bright timbre made the touching aria “Di Provenza” seem more pleading than ever.
Domingo’s Don Carlo on Friday appeared a monarch already worn down by the weight of his office, boding ill for his coming reign as Holy Roman Emperor. His Act III cavatina “Oh, de’ verd’ani miei” was a microcosm of his entire performance–he was definitely laboring, but showed flashes of smooth, sun-kissed tone.
Angela Meade drew a chorus of gasps for one unconventional dramatic choice (I won’t spoil it here), but otherwise failed to convince in her portrayal of the universally admired Elvira. She relied on her magnificent voice to do the work for her–she easily fills the house with flowing tone, and is never in danger of sounding harsh. There is beautiful, enticing smoke in her chest voice, and her phrasing, whether on the large or the small scale, feels completely natural. A little more connection to her character and her surroundings could only help.
Most of the evening’s dramatic energy was to be found in the foil pair of Ernani and de Silva. Francesco Meli had an appropriately wild spirit as the titular bandit, though that occasionally got in the way of his singing. Throughout the first act his voice sounded wide and unfocused, many of his vocal gestures feeling clumsy. As the evening wore on the effort began to fade away, revealing an intense, powerful voice with a shining top.
Dmitry Belosselskiy, following up on his devastating cameo as the old convict in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, turned in a stellar performance as the vengeful duke de Silva, the very ideal of a scorned noble. He has a booming cavern of a voice, but is more accurate and more defined than many basses of his stripe–no barking or “talk-singing” creep into his work. When he finally came to enforce Ernani’s dreadful oath, he brought with him the voice of doom.
As Verdi scores go, Ernani lives towards the frillier end of the spectrum, but James Levine made a formidable case for it, lending it an unaccustomed majesty that kept the music alive even when the drama was not. He chose energetic tempi that still had plenty of room to breathe, and the orchestra painted with rich colors under his baton. Donald Palumbo’s chorus has rarely sounded more robust than it did on Friday.
Ernani runs through April 11 at the Metropolitan Opera. Luc Robert sings the title role on April 8. metopera.org