Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain

March 27, 2008

Thomas Hampson and Sondra Radvanovsky
Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera 2008

With two twentieth century operas and Tristan on offer at the Metropolitan Opera this week, there had to be something from the kitsch department in the mix as well, so it is no surprise that Verdi's Ernani is currently being revived. Despite all of the excitement brought to this company over the last two years, it is still a house that has run on formaldehyde for a long time and so the coffin doors were swung wide on Wednesday for this dusty old relic from Pier-Luigi Samaritani. However, rather than stage the opera around a modern day scientific team working in a humongous archaeological dig, which would have made more sense, the powers that be instead went for a 1960s version of a "straight" performance. Actually, having Ernani play back-to-back with Tristan is fairly appropriate since they both concern notions of honor taken to the extremes. However where the latter is often spun in the sublime direction, Verdi’s opera often ends up going in the other direction.

Ernani may have the most ridiculous plot of any opera outside of…well, Rigoletto. There is much in it that thematically suggests many of Verdi’s later works, of course, both musically and thematically, so there is much to enjoy. Still, while opera is certainly an art form with more than its fair share of the ridiculous, I often felt like laughing more at what was going on than necessarily with it.

Of course, if you’re talking kitsch at the Met, you’re likely talking about Thomas Hampson, who seems to get dragged into these things more often than not. However, he seemed appropriately restrained to me last night, which was good, in that he was one link in a rather excellent cast. I was especially glad to see Sondra Radvanovsky back as Elvira after she missed last week's second performance due to illness. She and Ferruccio Furlanetto were their typical brilliant selves. Her Leonora, which was spectacular in LA a few season's back, should be one of the highlights of next season without a doubt. Marcello Girodani, the evening's Ernani, was surprisingly the weakest of the four and sounded a little wobbly at times, but he more than made up for this with his truly excellent acting chops and his sheer stage presence. In any event, Ernani will be this Saturday's radio broadcast from the Met, which may be the ideal way to experience this production - there one can bask in the sheer pleasure of Verdi's music without succumbing to the giggles.



Ernani may have the most ridiculous plot of any opera outside of…well, Rigoletto.

Um, how about Il Trovatore?


Really, Verdi alone has some real contenders, but in general, the 19th century Italian rep can be fairly risible in terms of plotting.
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