Lively Adventures: Ernani from the Teatro Massimo, Palermo

Verdi – Ernani

Ernani – Giorgio Berrugi
Don Carlo – Simone Piazzola
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva – Michele Pertusi
Elvira – Eleonora Buratto
Giovanna – Irene Savignano
Don Riccardo – Carlo Bosi
Jago – Andrea Pellegrini

Coro del Teatro Massimo, Orchestra del Teatro Massimo / Omer Meir Wellber.
Stage director – Ludovico Rajata.  Video director – Andrea di Giovanni.

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy.  Friday, February 26th, 2021.  Streamed via the Teatro Massimo’s website.

While the Teatro Massimo is unable to welcome its public in person, this has not stopped the house reaching out to audiences – this time on a global scale – with this new production of Ernani.  Given as a one-off evening performance in a mise-en-espace by Ludovico Rajata, the show is available to view on the Teatro Massimo’s website and on its channel on the YouTube.

Of course, given the current sanitary situation, the performance was set up in an imaginative way with the orchestra on the stage, strings playing at single desks and winds and brass spread out to facilitate distancing, the chorus sang from the boxes, while the principals performed in the round in the Platea.  The principals were costumed in extremely traditional and ornate costumes by Francesco Zito, who also produced some projections, that added additional colour to the boxes and provided additional visual interest.  The chorus sang in evening dress, each chorister occupying their own individual box, some were masked.  Andrea di Giovanni’s video direction captured the various forces well and gave us an accurate impression of the scenes in the house.  It was interesting to have Simone Piazzola’s Carlo sing his ‘Lo vedremo, veglio audace’ at the camera, which took us directly into the drama, but personenregie also consisted of a fair amount of standing and delivering, with lots of arms outstretched into the middle distance.  Of course, given the restrictions, we could only expect the lovers to address each other from a distance, but despite this, the combination of terrifically vibrant musical performances, impeccable textual awareness throughout the cast, and deeply satisfying singing meant that the drama came through fully.

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

Key to maintaining that forward momentum was Omer Meir Wellber’s conducting.  He chose tempi that were ideally sprightly, founded on a strong rhythmic foundation, upon which those long lyrical lines were allowed to take wing.  He also knew when to pull back, as in Don Carlo’s big number ‘Gran Dio! costor sui sepolcrali marmi’, giving Piazzola space to phrase with generosity.  Impressively, given the disparate placing of the forces around the house, ensemble was absolutely spot-on all night, and this despite the extremely lively tempi.  Wellber was rewarded by superb playing from the house orchestra, strings immaculately tuned, with some wonderfully characterful wind playing – particularly from the principal clarinet.  The house chorus was on deliciously lusty form, especially for that rousing classic ‘Si ridesti il Leon di Castiglia’ and again, given how they were spread around the room, the fact that blend was immaculate is seriously impressive.  As indeed was their tuning throughout, particularly in ‘Oh, come felici – gioiscon gli sposi!’ at the start of Act 4.  They had clearly been exceptionally prepared by Ciro Visco.

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

Giorgio Berrugi sang the title role.  He’s the owner of a wonderfully sunny tenor, bright in tone and easily produced.  He has an easy sense of line, a relatively smooth legato and used the text well.  He also pulled back on the tone impressively in his final scene, shading it with delicacy but never losing the core.  Berrugi occasionally has a tendency to swoop up to notes from below and sporadically to land just south of the note, but this was passing.  He also brought the swagger needed to his opening scene.  Berrugi is undoubtedly one of the most interesting Italian tenors out there today.

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

I saw Piazzola’s Carlo at the Scala back in 2018 and it was a pleasure to see how he has developed in the role in the intervening three years.  He also sings with an impressive legato and always phrased his music with affection.  At lower dynamics there’s a tendency for the longer lines to sound tight and constrained, suggesting that the support isn’t fully lined up.  That said, he has made remarkable progress in the smoothness of his legato and in his pitching, and I look forward to seeing him grow even further into the role in future.  Michele Pertusi reprised his Silva, the role in which he gave his operatic debut in Modena back in 1984.  His bass is now velvety in tone, but the musicality and implicit stylistic understanding is unchanged.  Pertusi also phrased his music with dignity and warmth and he mapped his character’s journey through his impeccable textual colouring.

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

Then there was Eleonora Buratto’s Elvira.  This is a singer going from strength to strength.  Indeed, watching her, I was aware of the exceptionally hard work that had gone into her artistry, not because it was difficult to listen to, but because she sang with an ease and technical command that can only be the result of a superb technique and hours of practice.  The voice is so easily produced, from a full and warm chest register deployed with panache, to a warm middle, to a top that, even through the small screen, seemed to have plenty of cutting power and was able to ride the ensembles with ease.  She set her stall with an opening ‘Ernani, Ernani involami’ that showcased her outstanding breath control and innate understanding of Verdian phraseology.  She also turned the corners with ease in ‘Tutto sprezzo che d’Ernani’, the florid writing executed with accuracy and with some impeccable staccati.  This was Verdi singing of true distinction and here Buratto confirmed her place as heiress to the great Italian tradition.

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

This made for a highly enjoyable evening and enormous thanks are due to the Teatro Massimo, not only for staging and performing the work with such care and attention, but also for making it available, free of charge, to a global audience.  We were given singing that was worthy of the house and of the work and, within a satisfying cast, highlighted an exceptional soprano.  Definitely worth a few hours of your time.

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