on 26 February 2012
This performance dates from 1962 and all the principal singers simply stun! Leontyne price is to Elvira what Callas was to Tosca; her singing is phenomenal. Bergonzi is superb too. The conducting of Thomas Schippers, always an underrated maestro, leaves absolutely nothing to be desired; had he lived into older age, he would certainly have been seen as one of the 'greats'. For 1962 the orchestral sound is rather tinny, but this can be compensated for if you have a sophisticated graphic-equalizer. Shortly after re-listening to this recording I saw the 2012 MET production in which both the principal singers are found severely wanting compared to what is on offer here.
on 8 August 2013
This is a fine performance of Verdi's early opera Ernani. It has a dream cast headed by the great Leontyne Price, in young fresh voice, and Carlo Bergonzi. They are backed up by solid performers Cornell MacNeil amd Georgio Tozzi. The set is vibrantly conducted by Thoma Schippers, whose early death was a great loss to opera. The recorded sound is quite acceptable.
Are there any drawbacks? Well, yes. The set is derived from a radio tape of a live 1962 performance from the Met. The audience applauds at every reaasonable opportunity, and at some unreasonable ones e.g when Price walks onto the stage, and during the orchestral interlude between her aria and its cabaletta. All the applause has been left in and is loud. Keep the fast forward button handy. Sure, one gets the sense of an occasion; If this doesn't worry you, go for it.
At this generous price we could not expect a libretto, but one would be handy. Get one from the internet.
The more of these live broadcasts released from the Met archives we hear, the more we become aware of a standard of cast and performance that might then have been taken for granted but which seems impossibly exalted today. The only pity is that they were not recorded in stereo; as it is, we must be content with clean, slightly boxy mono sound occasionally punctuated with some wow and fade such as we hear at the end of the great ensemble "Oh sommo Carlo" which concludes Act III. Supposedly re-mastered for this first Met-authorised release, the sound is apparently little different from or better than previous unauthorised releases but no-one will complain at the price. We are not exactly short of good recordings of "Ernani"; there is the excellent, stereo 1967 RCA studio recording with the same two principal singers and conductor, a classic vintage performance from RAI in 1950 with Caterina Mancini, Gino Penno and Giuseppe Taddei conducted by Previtali and the celebrated live blockbuster from Florence in 1957 starring Del Monaco, Cerquetti, Christoff and Bastianini - beat that for a cast!
Having said that, I think there are still very good reasons for buying this set, not least the opportunity to hear Leontyne Price in such youthful, vibrant voice that she sounds positively reckless in her attack on her music; she is as thrilling as Mancini and Cerquetti but with even more beauty of tone. True, one or two top notes squawk a little, but by and large this is the most vital and uninhibited singing you will ever hear from her. Bergonzi, too, while he will never have the heft and squillo of Del Monaco, is as elegant as ever and immensely touching in his lament "Solingo, errante e misero", but also extraordinarily released, capping the cavatina to his opening aria with a prolonged B flat that raises the roof. To complete a trio of superb singers, Cornell MacNeill is in massively authoritative voice, firm and expressive if occasionally slightly vibrato-heavy; he twice caps his big moments with ringing A-flats. The singers' grandstanding results in spontaneous audience applause over the music but that just adds to the drama of what was clearly a great occasion. The supporting cast, led by a black-voiced Giorgio Tozzi as the implacable Silva, is very good, especially Robert Nagy in the small tenor role of Riccardo.
Schippers conducts a brisk, urgent, flexible performance which has a small cut in the chorus for the "Festa di Ballo" opening Act IV but is otherwise complete. This is not a subtle opera: there are lots of "oompah-pah" ¾ passages and the melodramatic plot, with its insistence upon honour over common sense or morality, is rebarbative to a modern audience; Hugo condemned the adaptation of his play "Hernani" as "travesty". On the other hand, the succession of great, rollicking tunes and strong characterisation whereby a persona is closely linked to its voice type, make this, Verdi's fifth opera, first performed in 1844 and his first real success since "Nabucco", a tempting bargain. The music is by no means all rum-ti-tum; there is a lovely orchestral introduction to Elvira's first appearance on stage which is reminiscent of the one used Bellini used to introduce Adalgisa in "Norma" and the set pieces, such as the aforementioned ensemble and the great trio which concludes the work, are both stirring and sophisticated.
This issue of yet another of the Met Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts is self-recommending as long as you are tolerant of mono sound.