Placido Domingo was "suffering from a bad cold" according to Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb on Saturday afternoon, so baritone Luca Salsi, who was scheduled to sing Enrico in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor later that night, put on the costume and delivered a convincing Don Carlo at the last minute in Verdi's Ernani. Mr Salsi had sung the role in Rome two years ago alongside Maestro Riccardo Muti, so his unfaltered memory led to a performance of charismatic precision.

© Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera
© Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera
Verdi's opera is set in 16th century Spain , focusing on a man who, having lost everything, leads a troupe of bandits under the name Ernani. Tenor Francesco Meli sang the title role and won the audience's respect from his first aria. Mr Meli is equipped with a robust instrument, abundant in overtones and a seemingly endless supply of air. Despite the masterful singing, it was clear from Scene 1 that the staging was ill-imagined and restrained. The male chorus, whose voices rung proud and husky, were staged with clichéd arm-punching and choreographed "wait your turn" movement. We can credit the awkwardness to the staging director; however, the set itself did not lend well to movement.

Angela Meade as Elvira © Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera
Angela Meade as Elvira
© Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera
The scene change from the first to the second may be one of the longest in Met history.  The sense of life and narrative flow were too easily broken because the set design by Pier Luigi Samaritani was altogether too bulky therefore disrupting the continuity of the production. About 70% of the stage was taken up by a staircase for the majority of the production, and even the most fluent dancer could be constricted by such a platform.

Soprano Angela Meade sang the role of the lusted after Elvira. Ms Meade has a superb voice supported by a delicate vibrato and vacuumous lungs. In addition to her artistry, she even looked surprisingly graceful running up and down stairs. The Meade-Meli-Salsi trios were the most satisfying moments of the production. While still choreographed in a not-so-convincing way, the emotional strength of the music drove a force that the actions could not. These instances reminded the listener how opera is special in its ability to harmoniously communicate concurrent thoughts.

Francesco Meli as Ernani © Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera
Francesco Meli as Ernani
© Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera
A delightful prelude to Act III included a beautiful bass clarinet solo by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra's very own James Ognibene. Act III itself took place on the staircase to Charlemagne's tomb, as members of the electorate voted for the next Holy Roman Emperor on the stairs. After a slight pause, Act IV opened with a slight pause. The hidden onstage band took three or four cues from Maestro James Levine before starting on their own time with party music. Marked “Festa da Ballo”, the festive dance party occurred on the cumbersome staircase, and again Mr McClintock's staging fell short of realistic representation. In some respects, opera in general puts drinking on a pedestal with giggles and a raised glass; however, how can we really believe a wedding celebration in 16th century Spain has the ritualistic convention of silver service? To top it off, the chorus was packed on to a staircase with little room to move. In any alcohol-heavy party, surely at least one person would be passed out, at least one person would be starting a fight, and at least one person would be snickering at the surrounding events.

Nevertheless Mr Meli and Ms Meade can sing just as well standing in front of the stage as they can lying on a staircase, and the emotional weight of the double suicide left the audience speechless. Mr Salsi took only a few hours to decompress before he put on his second costume and geared up for round two.

***11