Ernani, by Giuseppe Verdi, is a complicated (no surtitles, so read the synopsis beforehand) love story between the rebel, Ernani (Salvatore Granata), and the much-lusted after Elvira (Martha George). Like all good opera, Ernani is filled with twists and turns; conspiracy, abduction, revenge, and heart-wrenching tragedy.
Premiered in 1844, Ernani is a rarely performed work. It reveals Verdi’s early exploration of complex personal emotion, focussing on the soloist as the vehicle for expression rather than the chorus. Despite this, the choruses were the highlight of the production in their power and spirit. The Melbourne City Opera Chorus is an enthusiastic ensemble of singers, their fervent energy and enjoyment tangible. Sadly, lack of direction resulted in this energy being unharnessed, creating a mess of individuals rather than a unified chorus.
A lack of strong direction and artistic vision permeated the entire production. Somewhere in-between a concert and a fully-staged opera, the performances were often stiff and presentational, the drama and theatre of Verdi lost. Opera is drama that uses music as a mode of heightened expression. Verdi placed his music at the service of drama – so often this is forgotten in the desire to interpret the music ‘correctly’, to make the singing beautiful.
And the singing was beautiful. Granata, a spinto tenor (a tenor capable of particular vigour and attack), possesses a luxuriously rich, warm tone which carried effortlessly through the auditorium. George’s sweet soprano provided an exquisite complement, the two voices interweaving and connecting into a soaring expression of desperate love.
The singers were supported beautifully by the MCO Orchestra, conducted by Erich Fackert. The orchestra interpreted and expressed the vast range of Verdi’s expression with refined skill.
However, it was the seemingly insignificant details, such as plastic swords, – which looked like plastic, and when dropped (accidentally), sounded like plastic, too – that jarred, breaking the illusion. The design of the production, as an important part of dramatic expression, lacked inspiration and thought. In Federation Square’s BMW Edge, it was easy to become dreamily distracted by all of the glassy angles and shapes. The climax, Ernani’s mimed stabbing suicide was clumsy, preventing any potential audience emotional engagement with the tragedy.
Melbourne City Opera, along with Melbourne Opera, fill an important role – attempting to provide more-affordable professional opera performances for more Victorians. For me, having very recently seen Melbourne Opera’s La Traviata, there is a need to focus on the inherent drama of opera, the acting and theatre, to raise these companies to a professional level. With such a wealth of local talent, the potential for affordable and invigorating operatic performance is in reach.
Melbourne City Opera presents
by Giuseppe Verdi
Venue: BMW Edge | Federation Square, Melbourne
Dates: Friday 20 March, Saturday 21 March, Friday 27 March, Saturday 28 March
Tickets: $65.00 / Conc. $55.00
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100