This is the commonly performed Boston version of Un Ballo in maschera. Those familiar with the opera's history are aware that Verdi was forced by censors to move the opera's location out of Sweden, and he ultimately chose the artistically unsuitable but politically acceptable locale of Boston. The opera was originally entitled Gustavo III but, to satisfy censors once more, was changed to Una vendetta in domino. That was eventually changed to Un Ballo in maschera and most of the characters names were also changed. The story, of course, was inspired by the 1792 assassination of Swedish King Gustav III, who was shot at a masked ball. In the Verdi opera, he is stabbed to death there. Well, despite all the trouble from the censors Verdi produced a masterpiece, as is documented on this fine Blu-ray disc.
The cast is excellent and contains at least one newcomer who will undoubtedly have a major career on the operatic stage. Arkansas-born, Vienna-based Kristin Lewis makes both her debut as Amelia and her Parma debut in this production. She has a powerful and quite lovely voice: try her stunning Act II arias Ecco l'orrido campo and Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa. She may be a little stiff in dramatics, but she is obviously a great talent, perhaps one that will develop further. Francesco Meli turns in splendid work as Riccardo. Try his audience-pleasing Act III aria Ma se m'e forza perderti or his three Act II duets with Amelia (Teco io sto; Nono sai tu che se l'anima mia; and M'ami …Oh, quai soave brivido) to sample several fine moments from his stunning performance. Serena Gamberoni as Oscar is also impressive: hear her sprightly and utterly vivacious First Act aria Volta la terrea fronte. She is, by the way, the real-life wife of Meli. Vladimir Stoyanov as Renato is also outstanding and brought down the house with his sensational Third Act aria Eri tu che macchiavi. Elizabetta Fiorillo portrays a most effective Ulrica, appropriately coming across as a powerfully dark character. Her voice is imposing, though her vibrato too often turns into wobble. Ensemble numbers are uniformly excellent throughout the production: sample the colorful and spirited Ogni cura si doni al diletto, from Act I.
Conductor Gianluigi Gelmeto leads a vital, highly detailed performance, with well judged tempos and a masterly sense for phrasing: every note coming from the pit seems a perfect fit for the action and emotions on stage. Needless to say, the orchestra responds with total comittment and accuracy.
Not only is this a great musical success, but the production is also excellent. Stage Director Massimo Gasparon, basing his effort on an older one by Pierluigi Samaritani, has fashioned a brilliant staging that gives the opera a traditional treatment, replete with period costumes and sets that fit the historical aspects of the story. Those sets, as well as the lighting and other production aspects, are most effective: the huge stairway in the throne room of the King's palace in the opera's opening scene is quite imposing and visually arresting, as is the scene at the sinister Ulrica's hut later on in the Act, where you see scantily clad bodies writhing on the stage floor and beams of moonlight shooting across the stage, all to create a striking and deliciously eerie setting. The opening scene of Act II, at the gallows – which is really a cemetery here – features tilted crosses marking graves, barren blackish trees and fog rising from the stage floor. Okay, that last touch might well be a cliché, but on the whole the scene is splendidly macabre and haunting! As for the masked ball, it takes place in a palatial ballroom which, with its cathedral-like pillars, regal architecture and predominance of blue colors and dark periphery, seems like an imaginative combination of the angelic and demonic.
The camera work and sound reproduction are first rate. All in all, this is an outstanding offering on virtually every count. If later on I were to compile a list of the top five opera videos of the year, this would almost certainly end up on it. Highest recommendations!
Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings