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SCRUTINY | VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert Offers Splendid Production Of Verdi’s Ernani

By Paula Citron on February 26, 2024

From the Opera In Concert production of Verdi's Ernani: L-R: Rocco Rupolo (Ernani); Andrea Nunez (Elvira); Alexander Hajek (Don Carlo); Justin Welsh (Silva) (All images courtesy of the artists)
L-R: Rocco Rupolo (Ernani); Andrea Nunez (Elvira); Alexander Hajek (Don Carlo); Justin Welsh (Silva) (All images courtesy of the artists)

VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert/Ernani, composed by Guiseppe Verdi, staging and lighting by Guillermo Silva-Marin, chorus directed by Robert Cooper, music direction by Narmina Afandiyeva, Jane Mallett Theatre, Feb. 25.

For its 50th anniversary season, OIC’s general director, Guillermo Silva-Marin had a wonderful idea. Why not do early Verdi? We’ve already seen Un giorno di regno (1840) with La Battaglia di legnano (1849) still to come on April 7.

The second featured opera of this golden jubilee season, and perhaps the most famous of the three, is Ernani (1844), and it was given a splendid production under music director Narmina Afandiyeva who was born in Azerbaijan, and is the reason we love immigration. The lady has a perfect sense of bel canto — a slowish cavatina, and a slightly faster cabaletta — not to mention that her piano playing conjured up an entire orchestra.

The singing, for the most part was first rate — and what’s more, all Canadian.

Soprano Andrea Nunez (Elvira) has a glorious voice, like crystals falling through the air. She also has a superb sense of timing and a strong coloratura when she needs it. Her singing is beautifully expressive with fabulous low notes that you need for true bel canto singing, as well as a stirring arced high register. There is certainly a great career in the offing here.

Ernani, as presented by OIC, had two baritones, the higher pitched Alexander Hajek (Don Carlo) and the lower pitched Justin Welsh (Silva). Both were superb.

Hajek is developing into the quintessential Verdi/Puccini baritone with a majestic tone the minute he opens his mouth. In fact, his wonderful, warm but hearty sound is reminiscent of those so-called great meat and potatoes singers like Tito Gobbi, Cornel MacNeil and Sherrill Milnes, not to forget Canadian Louis Quilico. His is a voice of rich colour and imposing command.

Welsh was the most accomplished of the cast, having graced Canadian stages for a decade or so. He took command from the first moment his character Silva landed on it. He’s fairly diminutive of stature but has a big, fulsome voice, although I never would have associated him as a Verdi/Puccini singer, yet here he was in Ernani. He has always been an expressive performer and his clarity of character was very strong. After all, Silva is considered the most evil man in opera.

And finally, we have tenor Rocco Rupolo as Ernani. Now, I believe that Verdi hated tenors and always gave them those difficult high notes at the most awkward moments. Rupolo has a beautiful, bright sound and his middle register is gorgeous to hear. To get to those Verdian high notes, however, was a bit breathy, and in some cases, a near miss. Rupolo, however, is a baby tenor, and that high note ease will come. Besides that, he’s tall and we need him for that alone.

Once again Robert Cooper did wonders with the chorus and the dynamics of their singing was great. Cooper ensured that it would never be just a wall of sound, and had his 19 members give expression where they could.

Now, if OIC can mount a credible Verdi, what about Meyerbeer, or all those Donizettis, or underrated lesser vessels like Mercadante?

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Paula Citron
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