by Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note free streams can be watched at www.metopera.org
Week 11 – Met Free Streaming – May, 25-26
Monday, May 25
Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust ~ 2Hrs & 22 Mins
Conducted by James Levine; starring Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani, and John Relyea. Transmitted live on November 22, 2008.
Conducted by James Levine, Robert Lepage’s remarkable production—with its innovative marriage of art and technology—wowed HD audiences around the world in 2008. In Berlioz’s rarely performed vision of the immortal Faust legend, Marcello Giordani is a fiery title hero whose impulsive bargain with Méphistophélès (a commanding John Relyea) proves fatal. Susan Graham is a lovely and tragic Marguerite, the woman who is made to give up everything for the man she loves.
Since we just reviewed the Faust legend for Saturday’s presentation of Gounod’s version, we certainly don’t need to do that again! Suffice it to say, the reason this version is rarely done other than as a concert – this production was absent from the Met stage for more than 100 years – is its many challenges. There are only three main singers, but a huge chorus is required and there are many, long orchestral interludes where nothing happens except in the music. Initially describing the piece as a “concert opera,” Berlioz ultimately landed upon the term “dramatic legend” to characterize his genre-bending adaptation of Goethe’s story. The Met had planned to remount this production last fall, but could not overcome the technical difficulties, and only offered it in its concert version.
Berlioz’s sweeping, symphonic adaptation offers both rhapsodic and viscerally thrilling music as it recounts Faust’s ruinous bargain with the devil, Mephistopheles and his subsequent descent to the depths of hell. In addition to the huge orchestra and equally huge chorus, a large children’s chorus is required— and the soloist’s parts are highly taxing, making this full theatrical production a rare treat you might not want to miss.
To quote director/production designer Robert Lepage: “Opera invites theater, literature, music, and dance and, of course, it has been trying in the past few decades to integrate film. I think now the tools are there to invite the logic of film into the live performance and make it feel authentic. I was interested to find a meeting point between the theatricality of opera and the cinematic world, to create a kind of portal where those two ways of telling stories would come together.”
Should be very interesting!
Tuesday, May 26
Verdi’s Ernani ~ 2Hrs. & 22Mins.
Conducted by Marco Armiliato; starring Angela Meade, Marcello Giordani, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Ferruccio Furlanetto. Transmitted live on February 25, 2012.
This relatively early Verdi work is based on a Victor Hugo play with a complicated plot that concerns a beautiful young woman and the three men who are vying for her (Verdi has one-upped the usual love triangle theme here) — her elderly guardian, a king destined to become the Holy Roman Emperor, and a bandit who is actually an overthrown nobleman. There are also, of course, various passions and grudges scattered among all of them to thicken the plot and to keep track of if you so choose. Or, perhaps the piece is best appreciated as a feast of beautiful and dramatic Italianate singing. This quartet of virtuosic principals delivers an almost continuous stream of heroic vocalisms.
Angela Meade (we’ve seen her in Falstaff) stars as Elvira, the young woman caught between the three men: her lover, the nobleman-turned-outlaw Ernani (Marcello Giordani – whom we heard just last night as Faust – another one of his characters who makes very bad bargains!); her guardian, the rich -and elderly – Don Ruy Gómez de Silva, who wants her for himself (Ferruccio Furlanetto); and Don Carlo, the King of Spain, who also desires her (the dashing Dmitri Hvorostovsky – Trovatore, Onegin, Traviata and Ballo). All accompanied masterfully by the Met Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Marco Armiliato.
As we have seen in several other stories, the four acts of this opera have individual names. Act I is called, The Bandit, and takes place in Spain in 1519. Don Juan of Aragon has lost his title and wealth during a civil war. Taking the name Ernani, he leads a band of outlaws in the mountains. He tells his men of his love for Elvira and his plan to rescue her from her impending forced marriage to her aging guardian, Silva. While she waits in her rooms for Ernani, she is visited by the King of Spain, Don Carlo, in disguise (yep – same character we’ve seen in another Verdi opera, Don Carlo – as a ghost). Don Carlo, it seems, is also in love with Elvira and tries to abduct her. Just as she draws a knife to defend herself, Ernani bursts in and is recognized as an outlaw by the King. They are about to duel when Silva also appears, and shocked to find not one, but two strange men in Elvira’s rooms he challenges them both at the same time! Fortunately for all, a messenger appears and reveals the king’s identity. The King is more than happy to pardon Silva whose support he needs to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. However, he summarily dismisses the angry Ernani, who leaves at Elvira’s pleading, vowing revenge.
Act II is called, The Guest, and here is where this love ‘quadrangle’ begins to get complicated – if not downright unbelievable. Ernani has disguised himself as a pilgrim to try again to rescue Elvira from her now impending marriage to Silva. Entering Silva’s castle, he succeeds in tricking Silva into pledging to shelter him from his enemies for the night. Seeing Elvira in her wedding dress (she believes Ernani is dead), and so unmasking himself, he offers her his head – on which there is a sizeable reward – as a wedding present. Elvira swears to him she would rather die than marry anyone else and tells him she had planned to kill herself at the altar. Of course, at that moment Silva reappears, but wanting to exact a greater revenge than taking Ernani’s life immediately, he agrees to keep his word to protect Ernani in exchange for a debt to be collected later. As I said – Giordani has a penchant this week for making bad bargains.
Carlos arrives, looking for the bandit. Silva keeps his word and hides Ernani, but Carlos, unable to find him, takes Elvira as a hostage. When Silva releases Ernani and challenges him to the postponed duel, Ernani tells Silva that Carlos took Elvira because he too wants her for himself. The enemies must now unite (however temporarily) to free Elvira from the king. The gallant, if ridiculously rash, Ernani pledges his life once again to Silva’s hands and as a token, gives him a hunting horn. If the horn is ever sounded, Ernani will take his own life.
Act III is The Clemency and takes place at Charlemagne’s tomb in Aachen where Carlos is waiting to hear whether he has been chosen Holy Roman Emperor. When he is given the title, it should be no surprise that Ernani’s and Silva’s plot against him is discovered, but at Elvira’s sincere pleading, the new Emperor grants clemency and pardons the conspirators, placing Elvira’s hand in Ernani’s.
Sadly, however, that was not the last act of this opera and with another act to go, you can probably predict another dramatic soprano or tenor death – or both! Act IV is called The Mask and takes place in Ernani’s castle. The happy couple is celebrating their marriage day when…. a hunting horn sounds. Silva arrives, horn in hand, but also a dagger which he hands to Ernani. When Elvira is sent away, Ernani asks only for a few hours to “sip from the cup of love.” He is cursed as a coward by Silva who demands the life he was promised – and being the proud, not to mention rash young man that he has already shown himself to be, he dutifully stabs himself in the heart. Naturally, in a beautiful ending duet, he dies in Elvira’s arms, begging her to live on.
1. A scene from Berlioz’s “La Damnation de Faust” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
2. Susan Graham as Marguerite and Marcello Giordani in the title role of Berlioz’s “La Damnation de Faust.” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
3. John Relyea (left) as Mephistopheles and Marcello Giordani as Faust at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
4. John Relyea as Mephistopheles at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
5. Marcello Giordani as the title character in Verdi’s “Ernani” at the Met. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Met Opera.
6. Angela Meade as Elvira in Verdi’s “Ernani” at the Met. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Met Opera.
7. Elvira (Angela Meade) and Don Carlo (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) are confronted by Don Ruy Gomez de Silva (Ferruccio Furlanetto) in Verdi’s “Ernani” at the Met. Photo Credit: Beatriz Schiller / Met Opera.