[Met Performance] CID:79300
New production
Ernani {5} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/8/1921.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 8, 1921
New production

Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Ernani..................Giovanni Martinelli
Elvira..................Rosa Ponselle
Don Carlo...............Giuseppe Danise
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva..José Mardones
Giovanna................Minnie Egener
Don Riccardo............Angelo Badà
Jago....................Vincenzo Reschiglian

Spanish and Oriental Divertissement
1) Scherzo Spagñolo: Rosina Galli, Florence Rudolph, Giuseppe Bonfiglio
2) Oriental Dance (Turkish and Arabian): Corps de Ballet
3) Gitanella: Rosina Galli, Giuseppe Bonfiglio
4) Ensemble: Rosina Galli, Giuseppe Bonfiglio, Corps de Ballet

Conductor...............Gennaro Papi

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban
Choreographer...........Rosina Galli

[Galli did not receive program credit as choreographer this season, though the dances described
are the same as those for later seasons when she was credited.]

Ernani received six performances this season.

Review in the New York Telegram

Verdi's "Ernani" was revived last night at the Metropolitan Opera House after an absence of eighteen years from the repertory reminds one a little of a Sunday night popular operatic concert. There are arias and ensemble numbers interspersed with choruses joined into a more or less unrelated operatic entertainment. Those opera patrons who like good voices and good singing will find the revival of unusual interest. An ordinary singer would not even attempt to sing the role of Ernani or Elvira or Don Carlos. Verdi was a young man when he wrote "Ernani," and he took it for granted that singers were supermen, and not, as we often look upon them nowadays, just talented mortals. Later when he wrote "Aida," "Falstaff," and "Otello" he seemed to have discovered that voices were not made of iron, though "Otello" has something of the same strenuous character, except that he gives his singers a little rest now and then. If you are looking for the latest thing in modern music drama do not go to hear "Ernani." It has a good story. Victor Hugo wrote it, but the librettist ruined it. It has no dramatic punch. But that is not so necessary in an old work, especially where the singing is of a superior sort.

In the title role last night was heard Giovanni Martinelli, the single heroic tenor of the Metropolitan, or of any other opera house for that matter, except for Muratore in French roles. It takes a heroic voice to sing one high note after another almost continually for three hours. And that is what Mr. Martinelli had to do. He did it extremely well. His acting, too, is very much better than it was when he first came to the Metropolitan Opera Company nearly a decade ago.

There was nothing finer in the whole opera than Miss Rosa Ponselle's singing of Elvira's first act aria. A dramatic soprano who has the flexibility of a coloratura is Miss Ponselle. It is a matter to wonder at, that she can sing this music lightly and rhythmically, yet in full voice with the timbre of a dramatic singer. And the quality of her tone was often exquisite. Her acting-well, we said at the start that "Ernani" was not an opera for acting. If Miss Ponselle had believed as we do in this respect, all might have gone well. But unfortunately she tried to act.

The role of Don Carlos was to have been sung by Titta Ruffo, and had it been, no doubt, his name would have occurred earlier in this review. Unfortunately he was indisposed. The role was sung well by Giuseppe Danise. But Don Carlos is a role for a heroic barytone like Ruffo. It is a role for a voluminous voice, for loud, vibrant, high tones. Ruffo would have made it thrilling, but Danise only made it what other well schooled, artistic, thorough Italian barytones would have made it. There is only one Ruffo, and only a few barytone parts with enough high notes to suit his voice. The role of Silva was sonorously interpreted by Jose Mardones. As was stated earlier, the performance was marked by good singing and Mr. Mardones contributed more than his share.

A striking feature of the performance was a ballet in the last act in which was seen Rosina Galli, the most charming of premiere danseuses. She was altogether delightful, as she generally is. There were new settings by Joseph Urban. All were effective, but two of them, that picturing a room in Elvira's apartment, and that representing the Tomb of Charlemagne, were remarkably fine. The chorus, particularly when only the men's voices were used, was admirable. The stagings of the scene in Charlemagne's tomb and of the last act were second class, except for Miss Galli's ballet. Mr. Papi conducted with his usual spirit. It was a finely rhythmical performance.

Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America

Admirable Singing by Danise

Members of Thursday night's audience learned of the substitution of Danise as they entered the lobby, where printed notices had been posted announcing the change. This, it was stated, was due to "the sudden indisposition of Mr. Ruffo." Persons who had heard the dress rehearsal on Monday were not disturbed, for Danise and not Ruffo had sung then, and they knew he would measure up to every inch of the rôle. Danise more than justified their confidence in him, and it is to be doubted whether any baritone now known to the American public would have invested the music of Don Carlos with more forthright good singing than he gave to it. Never has his voice sounded more powerful or of more stimulating resonance. He pealed forth ringing high tones in "Lo Vedremo," "O de Verd' Anni" and "O Sommo Carlo," but he also sang softly and with much charm in "Vieni Medo," a test of mezza-voce in cantilena. There was restraint as well as vocal power in Danise's Don Carlos, puppet though the character seems to audiences of to-day.

Rosa Ponselle, the Elvira of the cast, surprised not a few of those in the audience by the facility she exhibited in the florid phrases which Verdi incorporated as he did in "Trovatore" - in a part that seemed to call for a voice of the dramatic soprano timbre. Doubtless the bravura of Mme. Sembrich, the Elvira of 1903, was another story, but the writer has not heard any soprano, among those now at the Metropolitan, trill as well as Miss Ponselle did in the first act aria "Ernani Involami." There was some stridency in a few upper tones and a mannerism of the lips asserted itself in sustaining some of these, but Miss Ponselle's Elvira was, an achievement, vocally, well worthy of the very hearty applause accorded her, for it proffered many moments of really glorious singing.

In the title role, Giovanni Martinelli presented a sturdy and engaging figure, with flashes of genuine illusion in his acting. Part of his music he sang exceedingly well, and in part he drove his voice until its resonance gave way. José Mardones as Silva was, of all the principals, perhaps the most in his element. His singing of the once beloved "Infelice" was as satisfying as anything in the performance. The lesser parts were competently looked after. The Metropolitan's ever-dependable male chorus rejoiced in the numerous old-fashioned part-tunes which Verdi scattered through the score. From the [first] "Beviam" to the end of the opera it sang as Corimagistro Setti has taught it to sing, rousingly well.

Vigorous and Tuneful Score

There is no need here to retell the plot of "Ernani," which, as all the world knows, was derived from Victor Hugo's once famous play. It will be found in innumerable books of opera stories that are everywhere available, but it does not make very interesting reading. Tales of love-lorn brigands, masquerading monarchs, sliding panels, oaths of vengeance and torchlight conspiracies, such as the one utilized by Verdi and his librettist, Piave, no longer ring true. "Ernani" affords opportunity for Meyerbeerian pomp that is not neglected in this revival, and hence it is good to look upon, but no present-day audience will take the woes of its characters much to heart.

Neither is there need to enter into any extensive discussion of the score. Many of its arias have been household tunes for three generations, and college glee clubs have appropriated its choruses. Tune follows tune, with the prodigality of the genius who a few years later was to give the world "Trovatore," "Rigoletto" and "Traviata." There are many hints of these and other subsequent Verdi operas in "Ernani." As has been said of "Forza" and "Don Carlos," it is a notebook for what was to follow. Nor is it difficult to appreciate that it came to the ears of audiences of the forties, fed nightly on the saccharine of Donizetti and Bellini, as a blast of fire. Today, it still runs hot. There is not, however, the contrast to be found in "Rigoletto." The melodies plunge on at very much the same pace. All is intense and heroic, with little pause for gentler lyricism. But even when they seem brutal or banal, the sheer inspiration that went into the creation of the "Ernani" melodies is not to be denied. Verdi has written few baritone airs finer than "O Deh Verd' Anni," and there are only a handful of set ensembles in Italian opera comparable to "O Sommo Carlo." The stage picture provided the latter by the Metropolitan is one which, in itself, tends to justify the revival, from a purely theatrical point of view. The dances of the last scene, as led by the ever-delightful Rosina Galli and Giuseppe Bonfiglio, are diverting entertainment; and it is as entertainment that "Ernani," with its impressive stage groupings, its beautiful settings, its vigorous singing, and its succession of sure-fire, swinging melodies, seems certain to justify the judgment of the Metropolitan general manager in reviving it, whatever musicians may think today of its string of tunes and its noisy scoring.

Photograph of Giovanni Martinelli in Ernani by Underwood & Underwood.
Photograph of Rosa Ponselle in Ernani by White Studio.

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