Bonynge: Verdi - Ernani (2 CD, APE)
Bonynge: Verdi - Ernani (2 CD, APE)

Audio CD
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 2
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Decca
Size: 562 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Giuseppe Verdi – Ernani

Ernani – Luciano Pavarotti
Elvira – Joan Sutherland
Carlo – Leo Nucci
Silvia – Paata Burchuladze
Giovanna – Linda McLeod
Riccardo – Richard Morton
Jago – Alastair Miles

Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Welsh National Opera Chorus
Conducted by Richard Bonynge

In the twilight, a few stars

I bought this recording as a curiosity more than anything. A big fan of the Sutherland/Pavarotti recordings, I wanted to see what the former could do so near the end of her career. (I have recordings of Pavarotti up to 1991 that I still consider quite satisfactory, if not the smooth, easy high-noted tenor he once was.)

Sutherland recorded the major aria for the first time in April of 1959, shortly after her breakthrough as Lucia (the CD, which is available as one of the Decca “Classic Recitals” series, includes the two arias from Lucia, the Bolero from I vespri siciliani, and an aria from Linda di Chamounix). Slightly over 28 years later, she records the entire role. Is her voice the same as it was nearly three decades earlier? Of course not, and it would be absurd to think that any singer could remain the same for so long.

There are weaknesses to her singing that are the result of her age. Some things are not as clean or effortless as they used to be, but then listen to the staccato scales! Every note crisp and separate, something Leontyne Price never dared in her prime. Before anyone jumps on me, I have long been a fan of the Price/Bergonzi recording, but like anything that Price and Sutherland recorded, there are major differences in the voices. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be without either of them in this role or in Il Trovatore.

Something nobody ever notices is that Sutherland’s low notes, which could be quite laughable in her youth (who listens to a soprano below the staff anyway?) are very coherent and resonant. I will concede to some wobble, but it is also important to remember that Joan Sutherland at even 50% is still better than many, many people at 100%. And she’s probably still around 85% here, and there are still flashes of absolute brilliance. (As a side note, another controversial recording, the DVD of her 1982 Lucia from the MET, which has been rereleased on DG, has some sincerely effortless singing in it. Yes, the entire cavatina of the mad scene is transposed down a step, but this is a wise decision for stamina, especially towards the end of the opera).

Pavarotti is really quite good here too, and while Nucci has never been my favorite baritone, he’s a good Don Carlo. Paata Burchuladze, however, is the reason for the star being taken off the overall rating. I don’t mind the Slavic diction or the interpretation (a bit more snarly than my preference, but still okay), but he is uniformly just a hair flat, especially in the cabaletta “Infin che un brando vindice” and sounds strained in the mid-high range. Compare to Ezio Flagello (on the Price/Bergonzi recording), and there is no contest.

As to Bonynge, nobody knew Sutherland better than he, and he was probably second in line for the same with Pavarotti (James Levine taking first), and he does his very best to support his wife and one of her longest-term collaborators in their final recording together.

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