[Met Performance] CID:263390
Un Ballo in Maschera {172} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/23/1981.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 23, 1981


UN BALLO IN MASCHERA {172}
Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Somma

Amelia..................Gilda Cruz-Romo
Riccardo................Carlo Bergonzi
Renato..................Louis Quilico
Ulrica..................Bianca Berini
Oscar...................Judith Blegen
Samuel..................Julien Robbins
Tom.....................William Fleck
Silvano.................John Darrenkamp
Judge...................Charles Anthony
Servant.................Nico Castel

Conductor...............Michelangelo Veltri

Review of Gregory Sandow in the Voice of February 4 - February 10, 1981

Class Act

Tenor Carlo Bergonzi and conductor Giuseppe Patane have been extraordinary at the Metropolitan Opera lately, without any of the publicity they'd get if they were Luciano Pavarotti or James Levine.

Bergonzi, of course, was a household name in opera during the '60s, when he recorded nearly every leading tenor role in the Italian repertoire. He's now 56; his voice is intact except for the very top, and his singing has grown still more passionate and refined. He ought to be more famous than ever, but, except for a brief interview in the Times, his current performances in "Un Ballo in Maschera" have attracted little attention. Many people in the audience don't even seem to know who he is.

That may be because he never cared for publicity, or because he doesn't have the ringing high notes opera fans love. He's always had power when he needed it, but he did heavier rôles with a kind of vocal sleight-of-hand, singing high notes in "Aida," for example, very lightly, preserving their musical force by emphasizing details just before or just after, and creating his character of a strapping young soldier by darkening his middle range.

In "Ballo" he continued to favor technique over force. He used very little voice in recitatives, but pronounced the words so emphatically that nothing was lost. He knew exactly how much he could pull back from the mid-phrase high note in his last-act aria without destroying the musical line. In his first performance on January 19 he choked off the high B flat in his death scene, but on January 23 (as if to rebuke the Times critic who thought that his dying gasp was the only acceptable B flat of the evening) he sustained it for several seconds in a radiant blend of head and chest voice, squarely on pitch, and with even a little swell from mezzo piano to mezzo forte and decrescendo back down again (much more difficult than the very soft, falsetto B flats other tenors use to show off their technique).

Great as Bergonzi's singing is, I'm impressed even more by his characterization. He said in the Times that he doesn't think he's a very good actor, but I disagree. He can be awkward, but he can be affecting too, as he was in the love duet, when with trembling voice he asked the soprano if she loved him and then bowed his head as if to accept with perfect submission any answer she might give. His gestures were those of a recital singer and didn't suit his character, but he was so alert and authoritative on stage that he became, in his way, a complete embodiment of his rôle.

His vocal acting, of course, has always been superb. In sampling passages from his records I was struck by how different he makes each role sound - by his heroic machismo in "Aida," his gentle ardor in "Bohème," his flippant elegance in "Rigoletto," his casually arrogant banter in the first act of "Butterfly," and, most impressive of all, his blend of utter ruin and still-intact authority in the final monologue of Otello, a role he never sang complete but included in his three-record survey of Verdi arias. In "Ballo" he sang his fisherman's song wistfully the first night and then at the next performance treated it as an extroverted display, the fisherman showing off his flamboyance and at the same time the disguised nobleman showing how well he can play the fisherman. He dismissed Ulrica's appalling prophecy the first night with chilling authority and the second night with amused scorn. He did his last-act aria with such weariness that he seemed, in planning to part from Amelia, to be preparing for his death; he sang the preceding recitative as if he actually saw before him the "immense ocean," vast and sad, that would soon separate him from his beloved. In performances like this, the characters of Italian opera are no longer stick figures with stock feelings. Their words mean something, and, at least in Verdi, shades of emotion are as subtle as they are in Shakespeare.



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