Giuseppe Verdi originally got this opera past the censors by disguising the liberal Swedish monarch Gustavus III, who really was shot in the back, as the fictional Riccardo, Governor of Boston. This Metropolitan Opera production follows Verdi's political change of scene, and is set in 18th century Boston on the eve of the American Revolution (one of the conspirators is a ringer for a youthful Tom Paine in glasses). This Elijah Moshinsky production is true to history in that the tenor is also shot in the back, so ignore the fact that our hero claps his hands to his massive chest before he tumbles to the ballroom floor.
Viva Verdi! Viva Pavarotti!
Like all great singers, Pavarotti possesses an instantly recognizable voice. His is an unusually large lyric tenor, and in this 1980 recording of Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera," he displays a youthful beauty of tone. His bright timbre and exuberant personality might seem more appropriate to the Duke of Mantua in "Rigoletto," rather than the conscientious Riccardo, governor of Boston. However, it is also a very special experience to hear Pavarotti sing Riccardo and he does much to lighten up this rather dark production. It is easy to understand why Kattia Ricciarelli as Amelia falls in love with him.
Pavarotti has a relatively lean stage presence in this production, without his famous handkerchief and tent-like costume, but it would still be too much to expect him to act out a subdued death scene at the masked ball. Lean physique or not, we can't conceive of lean acting from this exuberant tenor.
Katia Ricciarelli, who has also recorded a 'Ballo' with Placido Domingo, is in her prime in this recording, which takes place before the heavier Verdi soprano roles and 'Turandot' supposedly ruined her voice. Here, she possesses a sweet lyric soprano and a lovely stage presence that surely would have melted a heart less hard than her husband's, as she kneels before him and sings "Morrò, ma prima in grazia."
If only Amelia had stayed on stage and listened to Renato's dramatic and sorrowful "Eri tu," I'm convinced this operatic couple would have been tenderly reconciled.
Oh well, this is opera, not life. The late Louis Quilico was 55 in 1980 when this production was recorded. His baritone was not as smooth or beautiful as other baritones that the Met had in its stable at the time, but I think his portrayal as the ageing husband of Ricciarelli's young, beautiful, tempted-to-stray wife was very poignant. He would not have gotten such a tumultuous reception to his big aria, "Eri tu" if he had not convinced the audience of his rage and sorrow.
The American soprano Judith Blegen, who was a frequent duettist with Frederica von Stade, is one of the highlights of this recording. She sings a buoyant, brilliant Oscar, most especially in her teasing aria, "Saper vorreste" in reply to Renato's inquiry about Riccardo's disguise at the masked ball.