[Met Performance] CID:30710
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Ernani {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/28/1903.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
January 28, 1903
Metropolitan Opera Premiere

Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Ernani..................Emilio De Marchi
Elvira..................Marcella Sembrich
Don Carlo...............Antonio Scotti
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva..Edouard de Reszke
Giovanna................Mathilde Bauermeister
Don Riccardo............Roberto Vanni
Jago....................Bernard Bégué

Conductor...............Luigi Mancinelli

Director................Fernand Almanz

Ernani received four performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun



Reproduction of the Work Which Gave Verdi European Fame - It Sounds Very Old-Fashioned Now - Sembrich Achieves a Personal Triumph

A chapter of operatic history might easily be unearthed and published as apropos of the revival of Verdi's "Ernani," which took place last night at the Metropolitan Opera House. But it seems hardly worth while to make a great to do about it. Mr. Grau has several times promised us a Verdi cycle, and "Un Ballo in Maschera," which was performed at the Metropolitan in the old days of Lilli Lehmann, Perotti and German opera, has actually been in contemplation. We owe the resurrection of long defunct "Ernani," which has not been heard in Italian in twenty years, to this Verdian activity and to the presence of Mme. Sembrich in the company.

Once upon a time "Ernani" was deemed a revolutionary creation and it certainly made a musical figure of Verdi. It followed close on the heels of his "Nabucco" and "I Lombardi" and was produced at Venice in 1844. Its success was due to its vigorous style of dramatic utterance, so different from the sugary refinements of the cool Bellini and the characterless brilliancies of the fatally facile Donizetti. The advent of an opera which had not only melody, but passion and character, took Italy by the ears. It all sounds elementary to us now, for we find in it the shapes which modern Italian operas but thinly hide with their flimsy draperies of gaudy instrumentation and arias askew.

It is only a year younger than "Der Fliegende Holländer," this opera which gave Verdi a European reputation, and it serves to illustrate how far away from Wagner the writer of "Otello" and "Falstaff" was in the heyday of his youth. He was still in his Neapolitan period, when he built around the aria and when he fought for fame with respect for the sacred order of operatic line of battle, cavatina followed by cabaletta, the adagio by the allegro. Much of the music sounds crude, sometimes rude, again even vulgar to ears accustomed to the refinements of "Aida" and the gildings of Verdian gold in the works of the young Italians. Yet out of this same rude boisterous method of assault upon our sensibilities grew Verdi's own "Credo," in "Otello," his Nile scene in "Aida," Mascagni's end of the first scene of "Cavalleria" and Puccini's church bells jangled in "Tosca."

We lack the perspective now for the proper enjoyment of "Ernani." Think of the effect of its audulatory attitude toward the holy person of a King upon the Italy of sixty years ago seething with revolutionary thought. Every line of some of its scenes had a direct message for the auditors. To us they mean nothing. Again Italy had fallen asleep in Bellini and only half awakened in Donizetti. The fierce, brutal blasts of this riotous music - riotous in its war against the refinements of true art shook the Italians from their repose and thrilled them with the consciousness of a new force. If we could hear only Donizetti for a winter, we, too, should start into a new life at the blast of Ernani's horn.

But all the power of the work was for sixty years ago. We are listening to it in a phonographic reproduction. It is a slim whisper down the rusty wire of time. All we get out of it is the hurly-burly of its flare of brass, the bleating of its comet solos, and its blatant juxtaposition of dramatic outbursts with hurdy-gurdy dance music of the ante-Verdian stock. We cull a few bits - "O tu che l'alma adora," "Ernani involami," "Infelice, o tu credevi," and the rest and mutter devout thanks that we still have some few singers who know how to voice these tunes. Then we pick out our sensations after it is all over, and decide that it is hard to be a child again, even just for one night. "Faust" and "Romeo et Juliette" - yea, even "Les Huguenots" - have made operatic old folk of us and we do not care for our little porringer anymore.

The performance was interesting, and still more so was the attitude of the audience. It was a large audience, one of the largest of the season, and it had come out with the expectation of having one of those good old times it had read about. It was worth the price of an orchestral stall to see its bottled-up enthusiasm oozing away. After a few ineffectual attempts to fan itself into a glow over the shopworn arias and duets and trios, it settled itself down to a very proper recognition of the singing of the principals.

Here, indeed, it found ample field for demonstrations of approval in the matchless art of Mme. Sembrich. She was in her own domain, her kingdom in which the royal purple of sovereign glory decks her fair shoulders. She reigned right splendidly, and all the others in the cast were but humble followers of her courtly train. She overtopped them all by the supremacy of her beautiful style, the style of the old Italian school which bequeathed to the world operas of the "Ernani" type and the school for singing them.

It would be idle to go though the score and name the airs and duets in which Mme. Sembrich's art shone most brightly, for that method of musical chronicling is about worn out; but those who heard last night's performance will cherish memories of her "Ernani involami" and her "Tutto sprezzo che d'Ernani" as among the brightest examples of her delivery. Such works as "Ernani" can not outlive their usefulness altogether while they provide notes for such singers. But alas! Where are the rising stars of the school?

None of the other singers was heard to great advantage. Mr. Scotti was Don Carlo, Mr. de Marchi Ernani and Edouard de Reszke Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. All of them did entirely too much singing off the key and Mr. de Reszke's "Infelice" was extremely infelicitous. Mr. Scotti was explosive and angry in style and only once or twice did he sing a smooth cantilena suitable to the music. In fact all three of the men imported into "Ernani" the pulsatile declamatory style of the contemporaneous Italy lyric drama, and it did not fit the old lullabies of the early nineteenth century.

The chorus fell into line more easily and formed the time-honored semi-circle, retired up stage during rests and rushed down to the footlights to shout the high notes, just as choruses did when young blood ran warm in the counselship of Mapleson. Mr. Mancinelli conducted the opera with knowledge and vigor. Whatever he may think of the old fashioned music, he reverences Verdi too much to slight his work. The orchestra had no trouble in disposing of its share of the evening's labors. The blowers of brass earned their money and much sympathy.

Photograph of Marcella Sembrich as Elvira in Ernani by Aimé Dupont.

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