18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Surprise, surprise. I had some hopes for this "Ballo," because it's conducted by the underrated Riccardo Chailly, in my opinion one of the best opera/symphonic conductors ever. I've never heard a less than stellar performance under his baton, and he's now 35 years into his career. However, I wasn't familiar with the singers, and the staging (particularly on the costume side) was widely denigrated, so that tempered my expectations.
Perhaps those modest expectations were a good thing, because they allowed for this performance to thoroughly wow me. I've listened to a multitude of "Ballo" recordings over the years, and I think this one might just - taken as a whole - rank among the best.
The vocalism is exceptional from all the leads.
The tenor, Massimiliano Pisapia, has some stiff competition. Riccardo was one of Luciano Pavarotti's signature roles, and it was also a very good fit for the lesser known Carlo Bergonzi. But Pisapia more than holds his own. His singing is faultless and full of shading and passion.
Amelia is essayed by Chiara Taigi, and she's equally good. There are a few somewhat raw high notes (par for the course for sopranos who take on this challenging part), but the rest of her singing is beautiful, exhibiting a surprisingly rich lower register. And her commitment is absolute - she even sheds tears at certain moments.
As her husband, Renato, Franco Vassallo is a worthy successor to mid-to-late-century Italian baritones like Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccilli. He boasts a very exciting, bronze-toned voice with all the money notes. Early on, his acting seems a bit placid, but later it becomes evident that this is to set off his seething anger once he realizes he's been wronged by his wife and trusted friend Riccardo.
Anna Maria Chiuri as Ulrica is thrilling in her big scene (she seems to be having a ball, or "ballo" in this case), and Eun Yee You chirps some lovely sounds as the ever-perky page Oscar.
Usually there's a weak link somewhere, but not here. The Leipzig orchestra and chorus provide fantastic support. As expected, Chailly's conducting is ideally paced, propelling the opera forward from beginning to end without a false step along the way. It could hardly be more exciting. The booklet notes say: "There is nothing conciliatory about this approach, nothing calming or placatory ... generally avoiding all sense of cantabilita and producing a performance ... through the lens of modernism, a view that certainly does the work no harm." I agree.
This approach is reflected in the severe modern sets and wildly stylized costumes. It's a Brutalist "Ballo." I can see why some would find this off-putting, but it didn't bother me at all, particularly in this opera. "Ballo" has already seen much tinkering in terms of setting (now seemingly a standard practice for modern-day directors trying, often unsuccessfully, to impress); it was originally intended to be set in Stockholm before Verdi changed it to British colonial Boston to appease the censors, and subsequent productions have switched it back. It doesn't really matter where it's set, because the opera's focus is on the central characters' relationships. Although I can't say that the sets and costumes are consistent in approach or enhance the effectiveness of the drama, they certainly add visual interest.
This performance was filmed in 2005, but it could have been yesterday. The picture and sound quality are superbly clear (be sure to switch to DTS 5.1 from the PCM 2.0 default in order to benefit from the full dynamic range and immersive sound). In fact, the bass is particularly punchy on this disc, evident even if you don't have a subwoofer.
Finally, this is currently one of the least expensive opera Blu-ray discs available, making it an even easier recommendation.
I was provided with a review copy of this particular disc, although I've purchased many EuroArts discs (as well as those of other classical music labels) over the years.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an odd production with unusual costumes and sets but it has outstanding sound with splendid singing and orchestral playing. Chailly really does a great job. The camera work is sometimes almost too close in putting one on top of the performer but otherwise the picture quality is good. The rather odd production is not really explained in the booklet but one gets used to it and the off-beat approach is definitely better than the dreaded dinner-jacket and church-hall dresses that appear all too often in so-called modern productions. Massimilio Pisapia is splendid as the kindly Count but I had to laugh as he looks so like "Uncle Joe" Stalin, the ultimate murdering tyrant! The Korean soprano who sings Oscar is excellent as is Ulrica. I enjoyed this a lot and it is one of a number of excellent opera and ballet Blu-ray discs on offer at very good prices recently. Parsifal, Cenerentola and Nixon in China are others.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This disc is a reissue of the 2005 Ballo from Leipzig. It is being offered at a very low price complete with a catalogue of other available discs. It might be a good idea to read other reviews of this disc in its original DVD format as it was issued several years ago. In general the overall view was that it offered superb musicianship throughout supported by good acting. The response to the costuming was negative and that, for most reviewers, was the problem.
I beg to disagree. It is also worth noting that this review is based on the new Bluray version.
The non-contentious part about this disc is anything to do with the musical and dramatic values. They are simply superb without a single moment of doubt. The opera opens with the chorus, the conspirators Tom and Samuel sung by Metodie Bujor and Tuomas Pursio, Renato sung by Franco Vassallo and the page boy Oscar sung by Eun Yee You. The conspirators are necessary but relatively minor roles within the opera and these are well sung and delivered here. Renato, as Riccardo's loyal secretary turned assassin, is a key role and it is immediately apparent that Franco Vassallo is well able to deliver vocally and has sufficient stage presence to command attention. His voice is well up to the demands of the part and is pleasingly lyrical while being powerful enough to carry without obvious strain. Eun Yee You as the page boy is immediately apparent as something of a scene stealer with an irrepressible vibrant and jolly stage presence combined with a stunningly accurate vocal delivery.
The next main character on stage is Riccardo sung by Massimiliano Pisapia who has a powerful and pleasing voice combined with good stage presence. As others have remarked, he appears not to be in the peak of physical fitness, but as the part portrays a non-active leader many years into his reign after a military victory, it is just within the bounds of possibility that he would not be in the physical shape he once was. As an amorous proposition for Amelia, one would have to leave that to her personal taste. Amelia herself, a role taken by Chiari Taigi, is powerfully delivered and Pisapia and Taigi make a vocally well matched couple who have no difficulty in filling the auditorium without the need for radio mikes, regrettably so common nowadays in some theatres.
The final key role is that of Ulrica taken by Anna Maria Chiuri. She is possessed of a fine mezzo soprano voice of power and a mesmerising stage presence. It is significant that her ovation at the end easily matches that of other key roles. Some have remarked that, despite her costume, she is still spookily effective. My own view is that she was having great fun in what might be described as a purely melodramatic role. As a photographer I would suggest that the sparkle in her eyes tell it all!
It is hard to overestimate the contribution made by Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra who deliver playing of passion, power, precision to drive the plot forward and to underline and maximise every possible musical and dramatic point.
The quality of the sound needs to be mentioned at this point as it is impressively outstanding offering tremendous impact and sonic depth. It is presented in DTS 5.1 as well as stereo. The visuals are of an equal quality with sharp imaging, excellent colour and with sympathetic and involving camera work produced by the very reliable Paul Smaczny.
The stage settings are effective and up to the tasks in hand being simple, visually imaginative and supportive but not distracting. The costumes are where previous commentators have exercised their disapproval. This did not bother me in the least. In fact I found them quite entertaining and appropriate to the opera for the following reasons:
The opera is essentially about things not being what they seem. Thus faith becomes a breach of faith, love becomes a breach of love and power becomes an abuse of power. The scene with the fortune teller is based on deception of identity and the concept of such a situation is in itself unlikely in any real context. This whole opera is a fantastic fantasy, entitled a Masked Ball, and is based on the most extreme series of deceptions. I would suggest that the use of creative extreme costumes seems to fit well within this fantasy world. They do not affect either the music or the drama which are both superbly delivered and arguably fit well with the other fantastic elements of a story.
I would suggest that, after considering the costume situation carefully in terms of one's own personal taste, this disc is likely to offer a very rewarding and satisfying experience to anyone who feels that they may be sufficiently flexible to reconsider the opera's elements of contradiction, extremity and fantasy in the terms of this production.
Some dialogue from the comments section below that may offer further help:
I find this type of review helpful in as much as it allows one to decide whether or not to acquire a recording based on the musical performance versus the staging. Also, I agree with Mr Giles in that anonymous negative votes are pointless. (UK review)
A fine, informative review. Opera is perhaps the worst genre to review. Dare to say some person's beloved soprano is below par or unsuited to a role, and you can guarantee a storm of negative votes from her groupies. Sad. (UK review)
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The musical quality of this production is quite good, and the voices, even in the supporting roles, sound fresh and appealing. Their acting is likewise better than you usually see. Eun Yee You as Oscar and Tuomas Pursio and Metodie Bujor as the conspirators were particularly good.
My only real complaint is the distractingly arbitrary costumes. Ulrica's, for example, appeared to consist mainly of brown netting and foam-rubber antlers, making her look exactly like a giant cockleburr. At the masked ball, the otherwise very lively Oscar seemed to be dressed as something like a human pincushion, stuck full of huge foam-rubber nails. Maybe this was intended as a comment on the two characters' respective sociability (Ulrica exuding hostility, Oscar absorbing it), but that's a strained interpretation; it's really anyone's guess. Most of the masquerade costumes appeared merely abstract and uninteresting. The titular masked ball is an opportunity for designers to present the audience with a visual banquet, but in this case it was wasted.
The visuals didn't spoil the overall production, though, which is worth seeing though perhaps a better rental than purchase.