PERFORMER: Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Leo Nucci, Paata Burchuladze; Welsh National Opera Orchestra & Chorus/ Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 421 412-2
Though it is not all that frequently performed today, Ernani, which Verdi composed at the age of 30, is one of the finest of his early operas. Based on a play by Victor Hugo, it transforms the elegant irony of the play into full-blooded Romantic opera, and contains a wealth of beautiful and gloriously singable tunes, with rewarding roles for the bandit Ernani, Don Carlo, Silva and Elvira, the woman desired by all three of them.
Until now, the recording to be most firmly recommended has been Decca’s 1967 version with those great Verdians Leontyne Price and Carlo Bergonzi as Elvira and Ernani, conducted with a fine sense of drama by Thomas Schippers. But this newly released version with Sutherland and Pavarotti, recorded in 1987 when neither soprano nor tenor was in the first flush of youth, is even more enjoyable. Sutherland’s voice shows few signs of age. She sings throughout with that spontaneous warmth that was always one of her greatest assets, and she decorates the cabaletta of her Act I aria (‘Tutto sprezzo che d’Ernani’) most exhilaratingly and imaginatively. Pavarotti’s Ernani is exciting and, where required, elegant. After Bergonzi, he was the most stylish of Verdi tenors.
The two other principal roles are very capably performed by Leo Nucci, his forceful baritone well suited to the character of Don Carlo, and the bass Paata Burchuladze, a sonorous Silva. The Welsh National Opera Chorus is in magnificent form, especially in the great ensemble that follows the baritone’s ‘O sommo Carlo’, and Richard Bonynge conducts impressively, with a fine appreciation of the opera’s style.