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Opera Review

From early Verdi, muscular music of stark power

Barbara Quintiliani as Elvira, Young-Bok Kim as Silva, and Eduardo Villa as Ernani in Opera Boston's staging of 'Ernani.' Barbara Quintiliani as Elvira, Young-Bok Kim as Silva, and Eduardo Villa as Ernani in Opera Boston's staging of "Ernani." (Michael j. lutch)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / May 3, 2008

The fortunes of early Verdi rise and fall but his testosterone-laced 1844 opera "Ernani" is having a moment in the sun this season. The Met revived its staging from the mid-1980s in March, and the adventurous Opera Boston, in what the company says was a complete coincidence, has had a production of its own on the books.

That new staging opened last night at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, where a sturdy-voiced cast tempted one to look beyond the opera's incredibly far-fetched plot to appreciate the stark power and invention of its music. It is the work of an obviously great composer who had not yet achieved his greatness; its fierce muscular writing is full of tantalizing glimpses of the mature mastery that still lay in Verdi's future.

Adapted from Victor Hugo's controversial play "Hernani" and set in 16th-century Spain, the opera's plot is not even worth summarizing in a short review. Suffice it to say that Don Carlo, the King of Spain, is smitten with the same woman as both Ernani, the bandit who is secretly of noble birth, and Don Ruy Gomez de Silva, an aging Spanish grandee with a desiccated, vengeful heart. And the woman at the center of this overdetermined mess? Elvira, who as it happens, is also Silva's niece. Don't ask. The part that matters is that she loves Ernani. And things do not end well.

Stephanie Sundine's traditional production is a lavishly costumed but otherwise rather unremarkable. Especially in the early acts, she frequently has her singers belting directly at the audience, which can at times be viscerally exciting but also has a way of underling the sense of frontal assault that already looms beneath the surface of this aggressive score.

Last night's performance was lustily sung by its principals, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. Eduardo Villa in the title role has a big booming tenor voice but he wielded it with a shortage of control and finesse. Barbara Quintiliani's singing grew more nimble as the night progressed, and she ultimately made a technically strong, musically intelligent Elvira. Jason Stearns as Don Carlo showed off a smooth and commanding baritone, though he left the psychological depths of his big Act III aria largely unplumbed. Young-Bok Kim was a capable Silva, even if he could not match his competing suitors on the level of sheer vocal firepower.

The protean Opera Boston chorus sang well in all of its various guises, and Gil Rose was a confident hand in the pit, for the most part maintaining the music's rhythmic thrust, and drawing from his able orchestra at the key moments an appropriately dark and somber tone.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.

Opera Boston

Performing Verdi's "Ernani"

At: Cutler Majestic Theatre, last night (repeats tomorrow and Tuesday)

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