[Met Performance] CID:260380
New Production
Un Ballo in Maschera {153} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/4/1980.

(Debut: Elijah Moshinsky
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 4, 1980
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
New Production


UN BALLO IN MASCHERA {153}
Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Somma

Amelia..................Katia Ricciarelli
Riccardo................Luciano Pavarotti
Renato..................Louis Quilico
Ulrica..................Bianca Berini
Oscar...................Judith Blegen
Samuel..................William Wilderman
Tom.....................Julien Robbins
Silvano.................John Darrenkamp
Judge...................Charles Anthony
Servant.................Paul Franke

Conductor...............Giuseppe Patanč

Director................Elijah Moshinsky [Debut]
Set designer............Peter Wexler
Costume designer........Peter J. Hall
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Production gift of Mrs. Donald D. Harrington

Un Ballo in Maschera received eighteen performances this season.

Review of Annalyn Swan in Newsweek:

In the canon of Verdi classics, "Aida" is the spectacular opera, "La Traviata" the poignant one, "Falstaff" the funny one, and "Un Ballo in Maschera" the...well, the problematic one. There is nothing wrong with the music, which can go tune on tune against "Rigoletto" or "Traviata." those powerhouses of great arias. Even in Verdi's day, however, his subject - the murder of the Swedish King Gustavus III at a masked ball in 1792 - was old-fashioned and rather overworked. True, the composer added some typically Verdian political overtones. But "Ballo," composed on the rebound in 1857 after Verdi failed to bring off an opera based on "King Lear," is essentially a retreat from deep character operas to the familiar world of love-triangle plots. Camillo Boito, brother of Verdi's great librettist Arrigo Boito, went so far as to pronounce it the composer's worst work.

Last week, as part of the controversial trend to update operas, the Metropolitan Opera unveiled a new, politicized production of the old warhorse. The setting is Boston - where Verdi and his librettist were forced to relocate the story after jittery Italian censors refused to allow the murder of a king onstage. It is not, however, the Boston of the late 1600s that Verdi himself used, but the volatile Boston of 1774, just before Colonial resentment flared into revolution. The production, the Met debut of director Elijah Moshinsky, an Australian who lives in London, is almost relentlessly symbolic. The show curtain is a larger-than-life reproduction of the Boston Massacre. Riccardo, the British governor of the colony - sung by tenor Luciano Pavarotti - always wears black, presumably as a reminder of his country's oppressive policies. Redcoats are everywhere, arrogant splashes of color amid the drab dress of the American patriots.

Gangplank: It is an interesting conception for a timeworn opera. As it turns out, however, the production itself is something of a Boston Masacre. The problem is not the opera's new political bent - the conflict between Riccardo and the Americans - but its inexplicably clumsy execution. Much of the staging is not only stark but silly. The fortunetelling scene, for example, has been transferred from a cave to a sparsely furnished meetinghouse, an obvious reference back to the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials. Fine. But why make the only entrance to the meetinghouse a steep gangplank of a stairway, which hordes of soldiers are force to negotiate awkwardly? Why transform the lovers' meeting place in Act II into a two-tier, high-tech set, complete with chromium poles and yet another awkward staircase?

Pavarotti struggled manfully on the [first] night to scale his Mediterranean ardor down to British proportions - at least at the beginning. Fortunately, he soon reverted to type as a warmhearted Latin lover with a ravishing voice. His rollicking Act I "E scherzo od č follia," in which he belittles the fortuneteller's prophecy of his death (sung by mezzo Bianca Berini), was a marvel of musical laughter, and his big renunciation aria in Act III seemed a cry from the heart. It was peerless Pavarotti.

As Riccardo's beloved Amelia, soprano Katia Ricciarelli matched Pavarotti's intensity, if not quite his sure tone. Their famous love duet in Act II ended with a breath-taking brace of high C's spun out to dangerous extremes. Among the others - all uniformly good - soprano Judith Blegen stood out as a small-voiced but sparkling page, and conductor Giuseppe Patanč provided a brisk musical line in the pit. If nothing else, this new interpretation showed that there is indeed more to "Ballo" than a spaghetti drama. But not every great cast could outsing this staging.



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