[Met Performance] CID:302320
New Production
Un Ballo in Maschera {193} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/25/1990.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
October 25, 1990
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
New Production


UN BALLO IN MASCHERA {193}
Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Somma

Amelia..................Aprile Millo
Riccardo................Luciano Pavarotti
Renato..................Juan Pons
Ulrica..................Elena Obraztsova
Oscar...................Harolyn Blackwell
Samuel..................Terry Cook
Tom.....................Jeffrey Wells
Silvano.................Gordon Hawkins
Judge...................Charles Anthony
Servant.................Bernard Fitch

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Piero Faggioni
Designer................Piero Faggioni
Lighting designer.......Piero Faggioni

Un Ballo in Maschera received seventeen performances this season.

Production gift of the Annie Laurie Aitken Charitable Trust

Addition production gifts of the Jacob Burns Foundation, Metropolitan Opera Club,
the William T. Morris Foundation, and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel L. Tedlow


Review of Bruce Michael Gelbert in The Native

Splendidissimo Minus

Giuseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), absent from Metropolitan Opera repertory since early 1983, was the first work treated to new trappings there this season. Nineteenth-century Italian censors compelled Verdi and librettist Antonio Somma to relocate the story of a Swedish monarch's murder to colonial Massachusetts. Piero Faggioni who directed, designed, and lit the present production, rightly returned the action to Scandinavia. (The Met's lavish Francesca da Rimini was an earlier Faggioni effort).

Presiding in the pit at the premiere late last month, was James Levine whose reading of the lighter moments-the barcarolle, quintet, Act One scene finales, and so on was brisk and bright while his serious scenes had apt pathos or dramatic urgency. Music for the drawing of the lots to decide which conspirators may kill the king, was especially gripping.

Luciano Pavarotti portrayed Gustav III. If some of his sound was pushed or pinched, there was, as well, the expected wealth of golden tone. Pavarotti delivered his sailor song and contribution to the subsequent quintet with brio, caressed seductive piano tone in the second verse of the sea song, the love duet, and the last encounter with Amelia; and sang his penultimate scene farewell with warmth. Though Ballo focuses on the ruler's heterosexual amorous pursuits, the historical Gustav was gay. The tenor's occasional physical contact with his travesti page, Oscar, a hand resting on his shoulder, a playful hug, and the page's devoted attendance on the dying king may be seen as subtle suggestions of homoeroticism here.

Aprile Millo phrased Amelia Anckarstrom's soaring lines sensitively, with particularly penetrating pleas in Act Three, Scene One, and achieved, for the most part, an apt spinto weight, with a dark, creamy timbre. Some high passages in Act Two, subdued ones in the prayer and forceful ones in the duet with Gustav, betrayed strain, though, and gave the listener pause.

Juan Pons's performance, as a Captain Anckarstrom (a.k.a. Renato) who, in Act Three, threatens to slit his wife's throat with his sword, had a blustery beginning, but became sturdier as the evening progressed and, in ''Eri tu" and elsewhere, never wanted for intensity. Harolyn Blackwell proffered a sassy and sparkling Oscar, who stole a judge's robe and flailed it about while defending the fortuneteller; announced the invitation to the ball with a flourish and gamely delivered "Saper vorreste" while competing with a troupe of ridiculous, over sized dancing shrubs. Elena Obraztsova roared and shrilled and, crouching and cringing on the floor, made a thoroughly ferocious Ulrica. Supporting parts, most sung with little clarity, were assumed by Terry Cook and Jeffrey Wells, as conspirators, Gordon Hawkins, Bernard Fitch, and Charles Anthony as the chief justice whose racist remark about the seer was tactfully altered. All but Pavarotti and Anthony were new to their assignments.

Faggioni's Ballo began with a distracting pantomime, involving "commedia dell'arte" figures, maskers, conspirators, and the first of much stage mist, during the prelude. The palace scenes, in the blue and gold of the Swedish flag, were ornate and striking. Portals, stairs, and ceiling remained in place throughout the evening, however, and provided an inappropriate frame for Ulrica's lair-an industrial era "warehouse at the port" here, complete with metal wheels, pulley, and fiery furnace and the gallows site, a wild and rocky mountain pass right out of the Ring.

The ball at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm, was as "splendidissimo" as one would want (save that damned terpsichorean foliage), with a grand staircase, balconies, and chandeliers festooned with garlands; but, shadowy and muted in hue, was suitably somber, as might befit an assassination site.



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