Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Let's Make a Pact

November 24, 2009

Boaz Daniel, Sondra Radvanovsky, and Salvatore Licitra in Ernani
Photo: Dan Rest/LOC 2009

I couldn’t resist hanging out in Chicago for one more day to catch Lyric Opera’s production of Ernani, which concluded its run on Monday. My main interest in this was Sondra Radvanovsky’s Elvira, whom I saw a couple of years ago at the Metropolitan Opera and had lost none of her luster since that prior outing. She’s still dynamite and undoubtedly one of the leading Verdi sopranos around today. Sadly she ended up having to pretty much carry the show on her own and while she may be a wonderful artist, Ernani is too much of a burden for any one artist to carry on his or her shoulders.

You see, there is the matter of the tenor, bass, and baritone. And not only do they have to sing well, they’ve got to deal with Piave’s crazy libretto. The tenor Ernani, in this case Salvatore Licitra, promises to kill himself on the command of his enemy, Silva, in recognition for having saved Ernani's life from the king's wrath. Licitra still sounds vocally unstable to me. He hits the notes more often than not but it would help if he had some mutual understanding of tempo with the conductor or the rest of the cast. Meanwhile, the bass Silva, sung here by Giacomo Prestia, is the kind of guy who so blindly enforces rules that he ends up promising even to protect his enemy, Ernani, when he arrives disguised as an unknown pilgrim at Silva's estate. Just come on in and make yourself at home, no questions asked. Prestia was competent if not entirely exciting here. Finally there is the baritone king himself, who alternately condemns everyone to death and then pardons them all on a couple of different occasions usually for political reasons he keeps forgetting about. Sadly, this was the most problematic performance, which came from Boaz Daniel, whose King Carlo was all over the place vocally and otherwise.

Probably the biggest disappointment, though, was the new production Lyric Opera had put together under the direction of Jose Maria Condemi. Blandly period without being richly detailed, the show was little more than a series of empty rooms with highly decorated walls and floors. In fact there was so little distinction between those walls and floors you couldn't be blamed for mistaking them as more or less the same room again and again. There was lots of standing, lots of delivering and then they called it a day. It’s bad news when you start thinking "Where's the Grand Inquisitor when you need him?" It was a somewhat underpopulated audience given that it was the Monday before Thanksgiving. However, I did sit across the aisle from San Francisco Opera’s General manager David Gockley. And while I have no idea what business brought him to San Francisco, I certainly hope Monday’s performance didn’t give him any ideas. If he was scouting productions or singers, let’s hope he saw what I did, or San Francisco is in for some more rough opera days ahead.



i agree, i traveled to chicago for ernani after seeing/hearing sondra in trovatore in s.f. she was great, sets were visually full but spacious (like chicago architecture) but she was the best thing going both nights i attended. next up for me will be her tosca in denver in late april. hope she (and opera colorado) make it happen.i'll listen on sirius when the met does stiffelio in january and that will be my sondra fix 'til spring.
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