Met opera has 3 men going gaga over 1 woman

Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

A scene from Verdi’s “Ernani” with Marcello Giordani (center) in the title role.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

In Giuseppe Verdi’s early opera “Ernani,” three men have a serious case of love-lust for one woman. You know what that means.

When two or more men fight over a woman, it’s never about the woman. It may look that way in this potboiler based on the Victor Hugo play “Hernani.” But it’s really about good old-fashioned male competition. Don’t agree? Read on.

Hugo’s 1830 play and Verdi’s 1844 operatic adaptation, which is this week’s offering in The Met: Live in HD simulcast series, were both conceived as courtly romances. But I would argue: Once inside the palace walls, the story boils down to male rivalry, pure machismo.

It’s 1519, and we’re in Spain where a fictitious civil war has recently ended. Our hero, Don Juan of Aragon, is not whom you might expect – the infamous, legendary lover of Don Juan/Don Giovanni fame. Yes, the Hugo-Verdi Don Juan is a handsome, entitled nobleman, but he’s lost his title and fortune in the war. What does a former nobleman do in such a situation? Head for the hills, become an outlaw and take a new name – Ernani.

When the opera opens, Ernani is depressed. He laments his bad luck. He moons about Elvira. She may be forced to marry her lecherous old uncle De Silva. So he reveals his plan to rescue her. Bored and eager for any kind of action, his band of new brothers agree to sneak into the palace..

Meanwhile, the King of Spain, Don Carlo, also has eyes, and apparently hands, on Elvira. Just as he’s about to seduce her, Ernani bursts into the palace. The king and the bandit duel, but they in turn are interrupted by Uncle Lecherous. Now, we have a complete trio of jealous suitors and they form odd alliances.

Act II stretches the imagination further. Preparations for the wedding bump into revelations, threats of suicide, a hostage takeover, supplications for mercy. A new male alliance forms.

Act III finds the King waiting to hear about his promotion to Holy Roman Emperor. That will change the odds even more and ratchet up the power struggle. In the final act at yet another palace, Ernani and Elvira have reached a different level of their relationship, as contestants on The Bachelor tend to put it. They may marry. Then again, there is that pesky oath Ernani took awhile ago.

Be prepared for a spectacular if illogical climax where all these plot details come together – sort of.

Verdi’s music, of course, is what makes everything worthwhile. This rarely performed opera has had its ups and downs through the century and a half since it premiered.

It happened to be the first opera to be recorded, and none other than the famous soprano Maria Callas put her imprimatur on the role of Elvira – once upon a misty operatic time.

The Met cast will be led by soprano Angela Meade and tenor Marcello Giordani with the handsome, magnetic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the King of Spain and Ferruccio Furlanetto as smarmy, old Uncle De Silva. Staged by Peter McClintock and designed by Pier Luigi Samaritani, the work will have a lavish period look.

“Ernani” will run only three hours and 50 minutes – a mere short story.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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