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Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera [Import]
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Luciano Pavarotti in his first Met Ballo heads an illustrious cast in the revolutionary production of Verdi's opera. His portrayal of the ill-fated Riccardo is "peerless Pavarotti." Katia Ricciarelli ("...a brilliant lyric spinto soprano...used to impressive effect...") is heard in her first Amelia at the Metropolitan Opera. Louis Quilico ("...his 'Eri tu?' was one of the real highlights of the evening..."), Judith Blegen ("...focal point of pure light."), and Bianca Berini ("...sang with taste and authority.") round out the cast. For his Metropolitan Opera debut, Elijah Moshinsky places his provocative Un Ballo in Maschera in 18th-Century Boston, on the eve of the American Revolution. It's a time of unrest and transition, when the conflict between civic obligation and personal desire is drawn into even sharper focus. Moshinsky's interpretation of the 1859 classic strips away all the familiar conventions and, as Andrew Porter in The New Yorker sums it up, we see "Verdi's opera to be (in Shaw's words for "The Ring") a work 'frightfully real, frightfully present, frightfully modern'...this is a Ballo about things that matter." This presentation of Un Ballo in Maschera is subtitled in English and was taped during the February 16, 1980 performance at the Metropolitan Opera. No material was taken from rehearsals, other performance, or remake recording sessions.
One thing you could emphatically never say about Verdi was that he skimped on melodies: Un Ballo in Maschera is a veritable greatest-hits opera, not because most of the arias are so familiar (though some surely are), but because their freshness and seemingly inexhaustible supply keep listeners' ears attuned even when the characters in this historically based tragedy perform the usual operatic deeds to each other: betrayal, revenge, and murder. This 1980 Metropolitan Opera production sets the opera in colonial Massachusetts, which was Verdi and his librettist's alternate location after Italian censors insisted it not take place in Europe. (The Met's more recent stagings have returned it to the original Sweden.) Elijah Moshinsky's production works surpassingly well on video, focusing the eyes on the performers, all of whom surpass themselves dramatically and vocally. Louis Quilico makes a credible Renato, who must decide whether his best friend--who is also the "Governor of Boston" (!)--is in love with his beautiful wife. Katia Ricciarelli displays a sweet tone as Renato's wife, Amelia, and none other than Luciano Pavarotti plays Riccardo, torn between loyalty to his friend and love for his friend's wife. Never the subtlest actor, Pavarotti made his name on his one-of-a-kind tenor voice, and in 1980 he was in his prime, making this disc a valuable document. The conducting of Giuseppe Patané is more than adequate. --Kevin FilipskiSee all Product description
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Despite the memorable performance the picture quality is barely acceptable. Practically all the Pioneer Classics ("PC") DVD's have poor picture quality. Worse examples are: La forza del destino, Lucia di Lammermoor, Hansel and Gretel, Metropolitan Opera - Centennial Gala and Manon Lescaut. The Francesca da Rimini is of equal picture quality. The best is the Idomeneo DVD, also with Pavarotti. But even that falls short of what can be expected on this medium. Inadequate lighting exacerbates the problem in many of the MET productions issued by PC DVD's. All of them are copied from the laser disc masters rather than from the originals. In addition to that, most are from the 80's and show their age.
Of all the Met DVD tranfers that I have bought so far I would say this is by far the poorest sound and picture, I wonder why? It was only taped in 1980 - so what is the problem? Why couldn't it have been cleaned up and remastered? Still, that is my only quibble with this superb release.
Pavarotti is in magnificent voice as Riccardo (or Gustavuss III, depending on which version you adopt) - and this surely must be his greatest role, and my goodness doesn't he act it well?
Katia Ricciarelli sings and acts a very moving Amelia, but it is the late Lois Quilico, perfectly cast as Renato, who almost steals the show after a brilliant "Non e su lei, nel suo fragile petto che colpir degg'io". In close up, I cannot believe in Judith Blegen as Oscar - she looks too much like a girl dressed a boy and my wife found her portrayal a touch irritating. I have also seen and heard better Ulrica's than Bianca Berini. However, this is nit picking, the three leads are fabulous and the whole piece is intelligently conducted by Giuseppe Pantane.
In conclusion, this is an excellent Ballo which has captured Pavarotti in fabulous voice. I highly recommend it, but the later relay with Aprile Millo with Pavarotti will sit perfectly on my shelf alongside this version when the Met decide to release it.
Since writing this review it has been confirmed that Deutsche Grammophon are releasing Pavarotti's other Met relay of Ballo in the Spring of 2002. I look forward to that very much. The Met emailed me in January to say that they hoped to release their latest excellent production of Die Meistersinger on DVD during 2002. So all who read this review please lobby the Met to ensure they do!!
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