NEW YORK (AP) — In an era of overthinking directors, intricate stage movements and concept productions that transport operas through time and locale, there is an argument for Verdi the way it used to be.
Especially when a rare soprano like Angela Meade commands the night.
The Metropolitan Opera's revival of "Ernani" that opened Thursday could have passed for a staging from the 1950s, with oversized doors, paintings and staircases creating a realistic depiction of 16th-century Spain and Germany. Singers walked on, spread their arms or clasped their hands and delivered their arias in the manner of the much-maligned "park and bark" style of the past.
And, you know what? It was a highly entertaining performance, with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto and tenor Roberto De Biasio combining for some vocal fireworks that more than made up for any dramatic shortcomings.
Then a 30-year-old vocal student, Meade made her professional debut as Elvira on the second night of the Met's 2008 revival of "Ernani" when Sondra Radvanovsky became ill with a viral infection. The promise she showed then has been fulfilled, and she has become a young dramatic coloratura of choice for Verdi. Now 34, she has just won the Beverly Sills Artist Award for young singers and the Richard Tucker Award.
A large woman, she could not be slotted into some of the Met's edgier productions, such as Willy Decker's minimalist version of Verdi's "La Traviata" that will return this spring. But for pure singing, she is one vocal thrill after another. Her forte notes are true to the top of the register, her piano notes glisten and her improved lower tones growl with ferocity. Her cavatina "Ernani, Ernani, involami (Ernani, Ernani, save me)" was among the moments of the Met season, with Meade displaying disciplined breath control in her coloratura.
Elvira is in a love quadrangle, courted by Ernani (a bandit who had been Don Juan of Aragon), King Carlo V (who is about to become the Holy Roman Emperor) and Don Ruy Gomez de Silva (her uncle). Francesco Maria Piave's libretto, based on Victor Hugo's play "Hernani," is more than a bit of a soap opera with its intertwined plots against and support of the king, but one that moves along breezily.