Opera Australia: Ernani – Theatre Review

Unlike the other operas I have seen thus far, I had no prior knowledge of Ernani. So, when I went to see Opera Australia’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s work, I was taken completely by surprise.

Ernani is set in 1519, Spain and circles around a love quadrangle between the extremely beautiful and young Elvira (Natalie Aroyan), Ernani (Diego Torre) a former nobleman turned outlaw who is Elvira’s true love, Elvira’s guardian and elderly uncle Don Ruy Gomez de Silva (Alexander Viogradov) and the determined King of Spain, Don Carlo (Vladimir Stoyanov). All men are exhausting, are desperately seeking Elvira’s affections, and in no particular order – want to rescue/abduct and marry her.

Ernani is not only a spectacular thrilling production, but it is fun, and is a great reminder as to why we love the opera. Unlike its 2021 season counterpart Aida, Ernani has a classic almost ‘pop-up book’ look to its set, designed by Julian Crouch, which is detailed yet simplistic in an incredibly clever way, adding both personality and depth to an already enriching story. The costumes the cast adorn, designed by Kevin Pollard, are so intricate, colourful and beautiful, that I was envious from my theatre seat I didn’t own a stunning period dress of my own.

The cast of this production are superb in every way. Not only were they equally as good as each other, but each of the main cast members made their characters believable and passionate for their individual causes. Leading tenor, Diego Torre’s Ernani is guided by love through every action and reaction that he makes, he is cautious yet courageous in the most unlikely ways. Torre’s voice is sublime and he really makes the role of Ernani his own.

Natalie Aroyan is wonderful as Elvira. Just when you think she’s a little over her head with all these unexpected and somewhat mad suitors, she keeps fighting in ways only a woman would know how to in 1519. Every moment Aroyan is on stage is a true joy for everyone in the theatre.

Vladimir Stoyanov’s Don Carlo is both mysterious and sneakily regal. You know he’s up to something, you know he’s a rival to the other suitors, but you can’t bring yourself to hate him and are curious to know what he’s up to next. That impressive portrayal is down to Stoyanov’s undeniable talents.

Last but not least, there is Alexander Viogradov. I already praised his performance in Aida, but in Ernani he is even more phenomenal. His soothing operatic bass vocals are some of the best in the business, and his emotive facial expressions of frustration and sorrow during his portrayal of Silva are unmatched. My mind can’t comprehend how Viogradov can go from one production role to another every night. Colour me in awe – because that is no ordinary feat.

It would be a crime for me not to address the music of Verdi. Ernani may not be his most popular work, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this opera and applaud Verdi’s clever creation, as the music is both rightfully lively and tender when it needs to be. While music is a given, Verdi is smart with the way he makes use of silence – pausing the music momentarily to let the performer sing a capella, while the character at the same time has their defining pivotal moment on stage.

Directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, conducted by Carlo Montanaro, and accompanied by both Opera Australia Chorus and Orchestra Victoria, Ernani is a wonderful introduction to opera for beginners, is surprisingly self-aware, smart, a joyous delight (despite being a tragedy) and is clever as hell.

There are only two shows of Opera Australia’s Ernani left at Arts Centre Melbourne‘s State Theatre, as this production leaves Melbourne on May 22nd. So, if you have always wanted to go to the opera, now’s the time. This show is it. And if you are an opera veteran, you’d be a fool to miss this.

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Photography by Jeff Busby.

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