This film conflated from two live performances of 'Un Ballo in Maschera' comes from the Leipzig Opera and thus the marvelous Gewandhaus Orchestra is in the pit and the conductor is their new music director Riccardo Chailly, conducting his first-ever 'Ballo.' The singers are all unknown to me but I'll wager that we'll be hearing about Massimiliano Pisapia (Riccardo) and possibly also Chiara Taigi (Amelia) in the not too distant future. The rest of the cast is mostly Italian and that lends a certain stylistic unity to the production.
Taigi is a good-looking woman who has the spinto quality to sing Amelia. She has a voice that reminds me of Montserrat Caballé, particularly in her chest register. The voice rides easily over ensembles, but it is in her solos that she truly shines. 'Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa' and the following duet with Riccardo is thrilling and ultimately heartbreaking. Unfortunately as the opera continues on to Act III some signs of fatigue show up in her voice. Massimiliano Pisapia has a baritonal tenor that commands attention and which he controls with skill without losing any of the excitement of raw passion. 'Forse la soglia attinse' is wonderful. Unfortunately he is distractingly overweight. Franco Vassallo, the Renato, looks good but the voice doesn't quite have the heft a good Verdi baritone requires. He looks the part and is a fine actor. 'Eri tu' is moving, though. Ulrica is sung by Anna Maria Chiuri. She is a very good actress and I'll admit that she spooked me out, as a good Ulrica should. Her costume makes her look like a porcupine! The voice is a heavy mezzo rather than a true contralto and handled nicely. Eun Yee You is charming Oscar with a bigger than usual coloratura soprano. 'Saper vorrete' is delicious. The conspirators Samuel and Tom are sung and acted nicely by Tuomas Pursio and Metodie Bujor. The big discovery for me in this cast is the tenor, Pisapia, who has the makings of a world-class opera star. Taigi could also make her mark on the larger opera world, particularly if the fatigability evident here is overcome.
But the mise en scène, while not outré, is troubling. Actually the sets by Arnaldo Pomodoro themselves are inobtrusive, even minimal, for the most part. But the costumes! Most of them are huge, made of bulky material (some of it even looks quilted). The women have what look like breastplates (this is not Wagner, after all!) that made me recall the bullet bras Madonna wore years ago; what is the point of that? Certainly not historical accuracy; this is the colonial Boston version of the opera. The size of the costumes reminded me of the behavior of birds in the wild who, when threatened, puff out their feathers to make them look larger. I guess Pomodoro wanted us to be able to pick the singers out from the scenery, but in such an ugly fashion? In the masked ball scene some of the characters had stylized ruffs, I guess they were, that reminded me of those collars vets put on dogs who have had abdominal surgery, the kind that keep them from being able to lick their surgical incision. Oy! Amelia's costume in the second act is a shiny ball gown mostly hidden by a huge globular cloak made of electric blue tulle that gives her the look, forgive me, of a huge neon amoeba. It was a relief when Riccardo gave her his dun (but very heavy) cloak to disguise her when her husband Renato comes on the scene -- at least the electric blue was hidden.
Stage direction is by film director Ermanno Olmi ('The Tree of Wooden Clogs') and seems neither particularly imaginative nor obtrusive.
With DVDs out there with the likes of Pavarotti or Domingo as Riccardo, Millo or Ricciarelli as Amelia, and Nucci or Cappucilli as Renato, this version would have to be a second or third choice. Sound is good, videography is fine.