Opera de Oviedo closed his 75th season with a period production of Verdi’s “Ernani,” which included a strong cast of singers and the expert baton of the Italian conductor Daniele Callegari.
The Italian stage director Giorgia Guerra did an homage to old-school opera. She staged the opera with painted canvas, cardboard arches, pillars, and curtains, as it probably would’ve been seen when it premiered in 1844. It was a good decision by the director of the opera, Celestino Valera, since previous productions this season had been strongly abstract and with a parallel dramaturgy.
Guerra recreated a 19th-century production through the movement of the singers, their reactions, and how they interacted with the chorus, the big ensemble with the soloist in the front line, and the choir behind. It worked, though it lacked the emotional depth or multiple layers of conceptual productions. Still, it was beautiful to see, and it probably helped the vocalists a lot as they always sing at the front and in comfortable positions.
The period costumes by Fernando Ruiz were just spectacular. With so many modern, conceptual, and abstract productions, it is good, once in a while, to see how opera was staged when it premiered.
Strong Cast of Verdi Singers
It has always been said that to do a good “Il Trovatore,” you just need four of the best singers. “Ernani” shares the same difficulty. Opera de Oviedo gathered a strong cast of big Verdian voices, which blended perfectly together like the first Act trio with the soprano, tenor, and baritone.
The Spanish tenor Alejandro Roy portrayed the title role. He possesses a dark, powerful spinto voice, with brilliant high notes and an equal timbre throughout all his registers, but his tone sometimes sounded dry and ungrateful. He would have been perfect for the role if he could’ve done more dynamics and diminuendos. He lacked delicacy sometimes, like in the final terzetto, and he gave the impression that he was focusing on heroic singing and the volume of his voice despite the long legato melodies that Verdi wrote.
Ernani is a heroic role, but this is early Verdi too, and the Bel canto tradition strongly influenced him, so it requires sweet long fiato singing and not a big voluminous voice. Roy had no trouble with the high tessitura, written above the passagio, of his first aria: “Come riguada al cespide,” constantly navigating between G and A natural. He was strong and heroic in the cabaletta: “O tu che l’alma adora,” although it was evident that he was uncomfortable with the fast tempi set by the conductor. He closed the cabaletta with a resonant sustained B flat.
The soprano Marigona Qerkezi, who sang Elvira, was an excellent example of the natural development of the voice. Having sung Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda, and Queen of the Night at the beginning of her career, all demanding a lirico leggero voice, Qerkezi has a spinto voice that keeps high notes secure and fast coloratura clean. This, she proved in her entrance aria: “Ernani…Ernani involami” with excellent high Cs. But her central register is big, dark, and strong because that’s where the role tessitura mainly lies.
Verdi’s early operas are demanding for sopranos as they require coloratura and high notes but also a big voice at the same time. Qerkezi was just perfect for the role. Her first cabaletta: “Tutto sprezzo che d’Ernani,” showcased fast scales, trills, and big projections from low D to high C. She sang effortlessly the quick coloratura that the maestro demanded with an absurdly fast tempo. Her voice was resonant and present in the trios and concertantes, and her high B flats and high Cs (a constant in this score) were ringing and strong. In the final scene, in contrast to previous, robust, and powerful singing, she sang with a beautiful soaring “dolcissimo” (as marked in the score) the line: “riso del tuo volto…”
Juan Jesus Rodriguez played the role of Don Carlo. He has a beautiful dark strong voice and a fantastic ability to sing long legato lines, like in his first duet with Elvira: “Da quell di…” He can sound sweet and menacing simultaneously and play with the colors of his voice and dynamics. His interpretation of his aria: “Lo vedremo…” was a lesson in legato singing, strong high notes (up to high F sharp), and deep emotion. He dealt easily with the uncomfortable high tessitura of the fragment: “Ah! Vieni meco…” constantly navigating around E flat and high F in long expansive lines. He was splendid in his second aria: “Oh de verd’anni miei,” keeping his floating expansive long lines and easy high notes, as proved by the high G he interpolated in the final cadenza.
Gianfranco Montresor, who played the role of Silva, possesses a big lyrical bass voice with strong high notes like the high F that he interpolated in the cadenza of his entrance aria: “Infelice! e tu credevi…,” but with a weak small low register as the low G of his aria sounded distant and small. He was lyrical and melodic for the aria but intense and bombastic for the cabaletta: “Infin che un brando vindice” with secure high Fs. Yet, he suffered from the fortissimos of the orchestra as his voice was the weakest of the four protagonist roles. His voice didn’t carry well over the orchestra, chorus, and soloist singing in forte. Although the line: “Ah, Io l’amo” was sung with lamenting sensitivity and sweetness.
The Italian conductor, Daniele Callegari, chose fast tempi, which became problematic for some singers in the cabalettas. The tempi of the concertante that closed the first act was ridiculously fast. It sounded more like a Rossini comedy instead of a Verdi drama. But Callegari knows how to stretch Verdi’s melodies and found a perfect balance between the bombastic heroic moments–Ernani’s first aria or the chorus: “Si ridesti il leon di Castiglia,” and the intimacy and delicacy of: “Gran Dio…Oh, dei miei verianni.” He played the fortissimo strongly, which sometimes caused trouble hearing the singers, and they had big voices and good projection. His work was mainly playing too loud and too fast. The orchestra sounded brilliant, strong, and balanced, and the chorus “Intermezzo” was splendid.
Opera de Oviedo’s “Ernani” was a period production, something scarce nowadays. However, the splendid strong cast fought against an incredibly loud orchestra and impossibly fast tempi during the performance.