Leontyne Price has moments on this record when she sounds like the greatest Verdi soprano of the age.
It was Ernani, "the one with the bandits", that the heroine of Arms and the Man went to see when she and her family were on a visit to the capital; and you would probably have to have some of her romantic, high-souled prepossessions about honour and glory to take the dramatic side of the entertainment seriously. Even so, the magnanimity of Carlo, now Charles the Fifth, becomes moving as the melody of the great ensemble in Act 3 swells and blooms, and the heart goes out to Ernani himself as his final solo "Solingo, errante e misero" captures that impassioned sense of the sadness of life which is oneRead more of the distinctive qualities of Italian opera. At a less exalted level, if one is coming upon it afresh or for the first time in recent years, a great delight is the sheer abundance of tunes, or of arias that have long been familiar as extracts and which it is now a pleasure to recognize in context.
An initial attraction of this issue over its rival must be that it is on two discs instead of three. It's a studio recording very much of its period, favouring the soloists rather than the orchestra, with the producer moving the characters about in stereophonic display of doubtful merit. The EMI recording under Muti comes live from La Scala, Milan, which means that 100 or so human feet are added to the scoring; on the other hand, there is an undeniable sense of occasion and the sound is altogether more opulent. Muti conducts with more intensity than Schippers, and the choruses and concerted work have more life and urgency. The honours are probably about equal among the two sets of soloists. Ezio Flagello is a sonorous, conventional Silva; Ghiaurov (for Muti) sings with finer care of the melodic line and bears him self with greater dignity. Mario Sereni lacks Bruson's shining tone and grandeur, but despite some rough moments sings the lyrical music well.
Leontyne Price has moments when she sounds (as she could be) like the greatest Verdi soprano of the age (the phrases where, forlornly, she asks Ernani for a smile, "il riso del tuo volto", provide an example); she is at least Mirella Freni's equal. And Bergonzi is decidedly Domingo's superior here. His singing is, to my mind, the principal recommendation of the set; not that he is particularly subtle or intense, but that he never wrenches out of shape the melodic line for which his finely produced voice is an ideal instrument. The Muti recording gives very limited satisfaction in the arias, which are such an important part of the opera; the RCA issue (textually complete), while not rising to the standard of the famous old recordings of individual items, presents an attractive alternative.
Ernaniby Giuseppe Verdi Performer:
Mario Sereni (Baritone),
Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Leontyne Price (Soprano)
RCA Italian Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1844; Italy Date of Recording: 7/1967