This production was a big success in Parma in 2010. The video and sound engineers needed all 6 performances of the run to piece together a perfect Ballo (they usually require 2-3 performances). Once the video and sound engineers were done they produced a Ballo too good to be true. I am ashamed to admit that I enjoyed it more than any Ballo I ever experienced in any form - it's simply addicting.
This was Meli's debut as Riccardo (the Boston version was used). They cast him (at least in the first cast) with an Amelia he had to work hard to keep up with. Since body mikes were used as usual, it was possible to "correct" the imbalance so that Meli comes out with a Pavarotti sized voice, easily overshadowing his colleagues. So you get a Riccardo not only with a golden tone, elegant phrasing, passions well projected, style, acuti - you also get a rock solid "di' tu se fedele" barcarolle with its low tessitura and the most perfect 12 note leap from high Ab to middle C. Really? Meli has such a powerful lower register? I don't think so, no lyric tenor ever had such a powerful lower register, but it sure sounds that way on this recording.
This is not just an esthetic issue but also an ethical one. Loudness is not a zero sum game in a live performance (attended inhouse). A louder voice doesn't necessarily win over a smaller one. The louder voice doesn't make a smaller voice smaller because you have the external reality with its parameters of sound as a frame of reference. But in a recording it is a zero sum game, because you can turn the volume up or down and anything is loud or not only relative to something else. So making one singer louder is at the expense of the other singers. The young soprano Kristin Lewis was making her debut as Amelia (as well as her house debut). Her articulation of Italian words and musical phrasing deteriorated in her more difficult parts (the latter acts) and she has almost no dramatic persona (she received some boos on opening night). Her biggest asset is the combination of her rich, enchanting timbre and the size of her voice - she has a wide dynamic range and can shoot volleys of gorgeous sound. Turning the volume up on Meli at her expense robs her of her main asset. Same with Stoyanov as Renato - the audience gives his "Eri tu" the biggest standing ovation of all principals in this production, but you wonder why. The engineering (relatively) robs him somewhat of one of his assets - his power of delivery.
Elisabetta Fiorillo as Ulrica has a very impressive, booming low register - the rest of her voice is completely in tatters. Serena Gamberoni (Meli's wife in real life) as Oscar is almost perfect (no trills, though). She is no feather-light-voiced Oscar - her tone is full and impressive. She executes neatly the intricate acciacature, turns and staccatos in "Volta la terrea" and her "Saper vorreste" is incisive.
I was very impressed with Gianluigi Gelmetti's conducting. The opening immediately shows how he can make the rhythm dance. His rubati have an energy that comes not simply from propulsive thrust like in early Verdi, but from alertness and attention to the context. For example, at the end of act I scene I he accelerates: this is after Riccardo decides they should all go to Ulrica's house, and that it would be lots of fun. In that context the accelerando makes them sound very eager to go. He gives excellent support to the singers, the instruments blend well with the voices and the exemplary miking of the orchestra reveals wonderful attention to balance and detail.
Tiziano Mancini's superlative video direction turns a traditional, not-very-original staging into magic. The camera work manages well the difficult to shoot, semi-dark scenes. It's dynamic and very grand in a romantic way, with the fog, capes blowing in the wind and the grand tableaux vivants, like the one on the cover.
Is the job of the engineers to render a reflection of the live performance as accurate as possible, or to give the best version possible of it, to give the most pleasure to the home audience and make the product sell? With a major opera company issuing a Ring with a Siegfried who couldn't even be heard clearly inhouse, and another major company issuing performances with a lyric coloratura Diva doing (verismo) spinto parts despite a voice that has been shrinking, it's clear that sound engineers are expected to perform miracles.
What is the point of going through all the hassles and expense of attending a live performance when for a fraction of the price you can watch an improved version of it at home? Because it's fake. When it comes to sound engineering, less is more (the less you tamper with the sound the better the result).