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Teatro alla Scala

In Review La Scala Ernani hdl 119
Ailyn Pérez and Ildar Abdrazakov, Ernani’s Elvira and Silva in Milan
© Brescia/Amisano–Teatro alla Scala

WHEN ERNANI WAS last staged at La Scala, in 1982, the postmodern conceits of director Luca Ronconi were largely rejected by the first-night audience, and the production was never revived. So it was surprising to see director Sven-Eric Bechtolf repeating the error in Milan this season, with a staging that distanced itself even more ironically from the iconic drama set so memorably to music by Verdi. Bechtolf’s decision to present that drama as a “play within a play” seemed promising, with the principal singers, wearing nineteenth-century street clothes, inspecting the bare stage during the Prelude before hurrying to their dressing rooms, as painted backdrops (designed by Julian Crouch) depicting a verdant landscape in sixteenth-century Aragon were lowered manually. 

But as the two opening scenes unfolded—with their solo arias for Ernani and Elvira backed up by choral commentary—one became increasingly aware that the production was conceived as a parody of melodramatic posturing within a provincially inept performance, with Ernani himself doubling as stage manager. Supporting characters indulged in silly walks and dressed in campy costumes (designed by Kevin Pollard). And when Silva sang of revenge against his two rivals (“Infin che un brando vindice,” a cabaletta originally composed for a Spanish production of Verdi’s Oberto, Conte di Bonifacio), the sword brought in by his equerries was so outsized as to make the sarcastic intent unequivocal.

The credibility of Silva’s character was saved on October 13 only by the full-bodied, impassioned singing and charismatic presence of Ildar Abdrazakov, who is surely unrivaled in this role today. There was also some forthright phrasing from Francesco Meli, who cut a dashing figure onstage as Ernani and displayed a strong sense of line, albeit with a voice that tended to veer between an unyielding forte and an under-supported piano. Ailyn Pérez’s lyric soprano is flexible enough to cope with Elvira’s florid measures and achieved a certain amplitude above the staff, but it lacks grounding in chest resonance: a number of key phrases emerged underpowered. The parodic mood established by the stage director—underlined by Elvira’s improbable blonde wig—made it difficult for Pérez to convey the all-defying warmth of Elvira’s love for Ernani. Simone Piazzola’s Don Carlo was pleasing in timbre and subtle in conception, but his voice is simply too small in scale to project the ever-varying moods of the character in a house as large as La Scala. 

There was nothing underpowered about the choral singing, but the Scala Orchestra gave little more than a routine performance under Ádám Fischer, whose accompaniments revealed none of the emotional conviction and coloristic imagination brought to this score by his predecessors in this conducting assignment at La Scala, Riccardo Muti and Gianandrea Gavazzeni. —Stephen Hastings

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