Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
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In 1792 King Gustavus III of Sweden was shot at a masked ball, and this was the starting point for Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. Yet before the opera could be performed in Rome in 1859, the composer had to deal with a series of censor problems. It was only when the opera moved to Boston that the work launched its triumphant career.
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The singers are ....OK (except the Ulrica, often a problematic role as who is going to engage/pay a major talent for one scene?). Acting is nothing much one way or the other. Some pretty sets, but the transition to the ball scene at the end is depressingly anti-climatic.
If you can find it, there is a performance from LaScala in the late 70s floating around with a glorious pair of doomed lovers in Pavarotti and Mara Zampieri. The cast is first rate throughout and puts this Parma thing entirely to shame. Decors are magnificent and I've never seen a more spectacular coup de theatre than in the transition from Riccardo's electrifying (as sung but this young and un-fat Pavarotti) double aria to the ball. The singing and stage craft rightly bring the house down.
I'm writing about something other than what I bought, because there isn't anything much to say about it.
In Act One Gelmetti speeds up on "Volta la terra fronte" and "Ogni cura si doni al diletto" and in Act Two he ruins "O figlio d'Inghilterra" using the same speed as in Act One.
Fiorillo does not have the low notes for the role of Ulrica, something that Simionato and Barbieri had plenty of.
In order of vocal quality Vladimir Stoyanov, "Renato" is the best of the bunch, followed by Francesco Meli, "Riccardo", Serena Gamberoni, "Oscar" and Kristin Lewis "Amelia".
Act after act the production is beautifully convincing.
This was Meli's debut as Riccardo (the Boston version was used). He has 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.
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).
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.
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