This DVD of Ernani is part of a series from the Teatro di Parma, a “Tutto Verdi” collection recently produced by Unitel Classica.  The tag line of the series is “This is how Verdi should be played” courtesy of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and it sounds like those cliché “All thumbs up!” comments given by unknown radio stations to low budget idiot movies American public adores.  While the orchestra delivers decent sound, this is absolutely how Verdi should not be sung.  

Marco Berti as the protagonist starts shaky with serious pitch issues. The cavatina “Come rugiada al cespite” followed by “O tu che l’alma adora” announces “gloriously” that he will have traumatic top notes during the entire evening.  And the rest is history.  He has a nice tone but the top notes are dangerously dry and forced, the low tones are inaudible especially in ensembles.  He somehow warms up by the finale.  Alas, it is too late.  It’s also a wonder how he gets the biggest ovation at the curtain call.  This is beyond courtesy.  Something must be wrong with the Parma audience.

Susan Neves as Elvira disappoints with shaky technique, inconsistent throughout the evening.  That’s a shame, for she boasts beautiful and voluptuous vocal material.  A catastrophic “Ernani involami” only gets perfunctory applause after the cabaletta.  Her inability to sustain a legato line  is a no-no in Verdi.  Besides, her singing the entire scene with a constant smile made me think that she has no understanding of what the lyrics are about. Her chemistry with Berti suggests Elvira and Ernani are at most Facebook friends.

Verdi,  unlike many of his peers, lavished as much grateful music on low voices as on high. To this day, “O sommo Carlo” and “Oh de’ verd’anni miei” are showcases for baritone voice of Don Carlo, a role that Battistini and later Cappuccilli and Nucci made their own.  Here we see Carlo Guelfi before his decline (e.g. the irritating Amonasro at the Met few years ago.)  Although not in splendid form he is the only cast member able to sing what Verdi put on the page, with firm breath control and phrasing. In the Act III “Gran Dio…O de verdi’anni miei” he shows signs of fatigue and grabs a few extra breaths, but still the legato and full dark baritone is finely placed.

The Silva,  Giacomo Prestia is new to me.  He has one of the heaviest vibratos I’ve ever heard in my entire life (yes, more than Ramey in Met’s recent Attila.).  The showstopper “Infelice e tuo credevi” becomes a pulse stopper, but his huge voice eventually warms up later warms up and delivers.  His acting skils are on the same low nonexistent level with the rest of the cast.

The production dates back to 2005 and the film is culled from several performances.  Stage director, set, costume and lighting designer are all Pier’Alli.  The lighting perhaps made sense on stage but the quality of picture is not great and all lead characters are overly highlighted.  The decors are minimalistic and mainly consist of angled walls, giving soloists and chorus ample space on stage.

Conductor Antonello Almandi perhaps is thinking the laundry he has to do tomorrow, but the band thankfully plays on by itself.

The booklet with the DVD includes an article about the history of the opera and mentions a bonus track called “Introduction to Ernani,” but it was nowhere to be found on the disc.