Friday, February 24, 2012

Verdi ups the ante on romantic rivalry

If two men competing for the same woman make a love triangle, what do you call it when a woman is being pursued by three men?

That's the situation in Verdi's "Ernani." It's one of Verdi's less-familiar operas, but the Metropolitan Opera will work on that Saturday, Feb. 25, when it beams "Ernani" into movie theaters, including Stonecrest near Ballantyne and Concord Mills in Concord.

The opera takes us back to 16th-century Spain. The heroine, Elvira, faces a trio of eager admirers. The one she loves is Ernani, a banished nobleman who has sneaked back leading a band of outlaws. The one she's engaged to is the elderly grandee Silva -- who's also her uncle, not that they considered that a barrier to marriage back then. The suitor who's most powerful is Carlo, the king of Spain. When he isn't focused on Elvira, he's angling to be elected as Holy Roman emperor. So he has to be cagey.

You can imagine the possibilities for romance, rivalry and revenge. While "Ernani" and the Victor Hugo play that inspired it were hot properties in the 19th century -- the play was a warhorse for Sarah Bernhardt -- they've now fallen into eclipse. In the eyes of 21st-century audiences, they probably have believability issues.

But Verdi's version is full of fiery, toe-tapping melodies, and they're its main claim for opera lovers' affections. While "Ernani" doesn't have a full-fledged hit tune, Elvira's stirring aria begging her sweetheart to fly away with her -- "Ernani, involami" -- has always been a soprano favorite.

The Met's Elvira will be Angela Meade, a young soprano who's tackling a role that has been a vehicle for some of the Met's biggest stars, including Leontyne Price. Marcello Giordani, the tenor whose ringing tones helped energize the movie-theater showing of Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West," will play Ernani. The sonorous tones of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky -- star of the HD showing of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" -- should make for a kingly Carlo. And even though Silva is the opera's heavy, the smooth Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto may reveal at least a little something in him that's poignant.

(Photo of Marco Giordani as Ernani by Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera)