This production of Ermione in Naples was less stimulating than expected. Staging and singing were not as daring and profound as the libretto and the score might have allowed: in the end, what really emerged was Rossini’s glorious music, its intelligent construction and perfect beauty.

Rossini's Ermione at Teatro di San Carlo
© Francesco Squeglia

Director Jacopo Spirei’s staging was full of good intentions, but the whole thing was quite blandly done, with some characters just walking on and off the stage and the chorus deployed in the background. One good idea was that Andromaca was visibly the true focus of the setting and this gave the opera a particular flavour. The set by Nikolaus Webern was white and non-intrusive. The costumes were well-designed by Giusy Giustino, as usual.

In spite of the fact that Ermione was a fiasco at its premiere (it debuted at the San Carlo in 1819, two hundred years ago), there is no doubt that the work is a recognised masterpiece nowadays. The story takes place after the fall of Troy. Pirro is betrothed to Ermione, but has fallen in love with Hector's widow Andromaca, who is his prisoner. Oreste is in love with Ermione, whose heart is only for Pirro, who in turn wants to marry Andromaca: she agrees, but only to save her son’s life. Ermione goes wild and asks Oreste to kill Pirro; he does so, but when he shows her the bloodstained dagger, she repents and goes even madder, invoking the Furies upon him. Rather deliriously, he is dragged away by his fellows. 

Angela Meade (Ermione)
© Francesco Squeglia

As in the best tragedies, all of the characters in Ermione are obsessed with great passions: love, fear and revenge. These are depicted by Rossini with his whole amazing sound palette: the music is astonishingly difficult and makes many technical and emotional demands on the singers.

Angela Meade’s Ermione wasn’t bad, her coloratura was precise and her tone pleasing. But she did not grab our attention as her character should, although it is only fair to say that her music is astonishingly difficult. Her middle voice was soft and limpid, but in the lower register, it did not make for pleasant listening. She was better in the high notes, which she sang with a striking tension and first-rate technique.

Teresa Iervolino had no such problems. Her Andromaca was well played and sung, to the point that she became the centre of the action. She added a dark tone quality to her voice which really worked in terms of the role she was playing, a dignified and morally upright Andromaca.

Antonino Siragusa (Orestes) and Angela Meade (Ermione)
© Francesco Squeglia

Tenor John Irvin as Pirro had good control of his timbre and diction, but the voice was quite small and the colouring had a faint contour. Antonino Siragusa drew a credible portrait of the love-obsessed and passionate Oreste. Filippo Adami made a good impression as Pilade, the third tenor role, as did the singers in the other minor roles.

In Ermione there is an unusual chorus role, especially in the overture where the cries of Trojan prisoners are heard. The San Carlo chorus was adequate, but as a whole, the orchestra and chorus, under the baton of Alessandro De Marchi, did not show their best form, the parts blending imperfectly and quite coldly. The production as a whole lacked the allure that a performance of this opera should have to be considered great.