- This 1998 Vienna State Opera production of Verdi's Ernani was the first in that house in more than 70 years. - Conductor Seiji Ozawa's only Verdi Vienna premier. - The casting was ideal, led by American tenor Neil Shicoff as Ernani and American lirico spinto soprano Michele Crider as Elvira.
Vienna A.D. 1998. The great Seiji Ozawa (still very much alive at 78) became General Music Director of the Staatsoper following this magnificent performance of Ernani, a Viennese favorite way back. You may not associate Seiji with Verdi, but, as we say it in Hungary: "a gentleman is a gentleman, even in Hell". That is, a great conductor is always a great conductor whoever the composer is. He was in his element in Verdi, especially this opera, one of his best in his early years. It's an intensely rhythmical, assertive, red-blooded work full of wonderful melodies and a drive that never for a moment rests or becomes boring. Ozawa's 'con brio' is infectious and it permeates the whole ensemble. Singers are all wonderful. The soprano is Michele Crider, an ample American lady, in the difficult starring role of Elvira "alternating between lyrical agility and dramatic outburst", solid and powerful in all registers. Carlos Alvarez is the baritone, a tremendous role especially in the 3rd act, is just the right voice for the powerful and multi dimensioned part of Don Carlo who in turn becomes Emperor Charles V in the opera. Roberto Scandiuzzi is a stentorian and voluminous basso-profundo for the old man Silva to whom some of Verdi's greatest music is given. Neil Shicoff...... initially from the Met, but acquired great fame in Vienna, is definitely not an Italian voice and some struggle is noticeable, but his emotional commitment and a certain feeling of vulnerability in his persona makes up for his minor shortcomings. This being said, I still do not recommend this set. It comes from a radio broadcast and it was obviously recorded from there. The sound could be best described a anaemic, so much so that the performance cannot be appreciated on a good stereo system and to issue a set like this today and charge good money for it is unforgivable. If you want a really good one, my advice to you is: go for the TUTTO VERDI DVD release (I have written it up). You won't be sorry.
The sound is fine, and the orchestra plays well enough, given the indifferent conducting, but this is the sort of performance that exemplifies "routine." The usual cuts are taken, most ruinously in the act one finale and the final trio. Shicoff sounds worn out, Crider is wayward of pitch and rhythm, leaving Alvarez to claim the evening, handily. Even earliest Verdi calls for ample rubato; the music here is simply too beautiful to be dashed off thus. There may be worse "Ernani"s out there, but, at this price, surely none more disappointing. Orfeo should have left this dog in the dungeon. hfs
Was this review helpful to you?
First off, the other reviewer doesn't know what he's talking about. There's a BIG difference between "terrible" sound and DISTANT sound. This one is clear but distant because of the miking. The microphones were apparently at the footlights while some action took place upstage so the voices aren't caught well. Secobd, this is far from a "great" performance. Shicoff is straining above the staff and Crider's voice wobbles like cfrazy (which led to her short, unlamented career). Plus Ozawa, a mediocre conductor at best, has no concept of Verdi or opera whatsoever so everything drags and plods along.
If you want an ERNANI worth listening to, go for the RCA set with Bergonzi or the Met broadcast with del Monaco. Forget this piece of junk..