[Met Performance] CID:8080
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Un Ballo in Maschera {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/11/1889.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
December 11, 1889
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
In German

Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Somma

Amelia..................Lilli Lehmann
Riccardo................Julius Perotti
Renato..................Theodore Reichmann
Ulrica..................Emmy Sonntag-Uhl
Oscar...................Betty Frank
Samuel..................Joseph Arden
Tom.....................Conrad Behrens
Silvano.................Albert Mittelhauser
Dance...................Margaretha Urbanska
Dance...................Miss Louie
Dance...................Josefine Ambroggio

Conductor...............Anton Seidl

Director................Theodore Habelmann

Translation by unknown

Un Ballo in Maschera received five performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times


The revival of Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" at the Opera House last evening, was unquestionably an interesting and instructive feature of a musical season which has already demonstrated its right to be deemed one of the most important in the art annals of the metropolis. To be sure, the familiar suavity of "la bells lingua Toscana" had been replaced by the unyielding consonants of the Vaterland, and the vocal duties of the evening were assigned to ladies and gentlemen whose earnest devotion to dramatic truthfulness on the operetta stage is beyond question, but whose skin as vocalists pure and simple is not quite equal to that of the Latins. It was not such a presentation of Verdi's opera as we should have looked for in the brave days of old in the consulship of Mapleson, when every ornament would have been elaborated with devoted care and every high note prolonged with passionate intensity; but it was a production much more satisfactory to the musical taste of to-day, which regards the opera as something greater than a mere "concourse of sweet sounds."

Perchance the spirit in which last night's production was undertaken would not have pleased the cognoscenti who attended the first performance of the opera in Rome in 1859, or those who listened to it in Paris in January, 1861, or yet again those who applauded it in London in June of that year. Verdi had already achieved successes in the English capital with his "Rigoletto," with Mme. Bosio, Mario, and Ronconi in the principal parts, and his popularity was materially deepened by the production of "Un Ballo," the success of which was largely due to Mario's splendid impersonation or the Duke and Graziani's admirable interpretation of Renato. After that it was considered bad taste not to admire Verdi's music.

Last evening's production was undertaken in a spirit that would hardly have delighted any of those audiences, for vocal technique was, if not less, at least no more, conspicuous than dramatic earnestness. A devotion to the truthfulness of the histrionic elements in opera tends toward the production of good results in Verdi's works. When the maestro's earlier works were composed a reaction from the sweet and sensuous strains of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini was impending, and this feeling had acquired a sufficient impetus to insure the success of "Rigoletto" in 1851. Foreign literature and new theories in art were making themselves felt in Italy then as they have done recently. Italian composers began to seek for violent expression of the passions. The sensuous lyricism of Rossini and his contemporaries gave way to a melodramatic style, and Verdi was its chief and most accomplished exponent. "Un Ballo" belongs to this melodramatic period, which has happily given way to a higher mood of Verdi's muse in "Aida" and "Otello."

The famous Italian master, before the appearance of these last works, was called the most nervous, theatric, and sensuous composer of the present century. His style was censured as being often spasmodic, tawdry, and meretricious. It was admitted that while there were many passages of genuine dramatic force in his scores, he quite as often offended his hearers by sensation and violence. It requires no great amount of penetration to find justification for these criticisms in "Un Ballo." Yet the same penetration cannot fail to perceive that fecundity of melodic invention and command of all the theatrical pomp and circumstance of music which are employed with such admirable skill and artistic honesty in his last two works.

In his earlier operas, of which the one under consideration is a fair example, the composer courted too assiduously the ephemeral applause of the injudicious. He resorted to cheap and tawdry melody and to clap-trap instrumentation. He handled his material with marvelous ability, achieving effects which astounded the ear and often paralyzed the judgment; but be failed to convey the lasting impression that one gets from his "Aida" and "Otello," where the details are made subservient town artistic purpose.

Were it not for the achievements of Weber in "Euryanthe" and Mozart in "Die Zauberflöte" it might seem absurd to talk about artistic purpose in connection with such a ridiculous libretto as that of the opera presented last evening. It is unnecessary to remind old opera-goers of the remarkable contents of the book, and if those who were unfamiliar with the libretto before last evening were not amazed at its revelations of the inside history of Boston in the seventeenth century it must have been because they had fed upon the fat of English burlesque until they could swallow anything.

The revival of "Un Ballo in Maschera," however, is a novelty in its way, and for it the public should thank the busy and capable director, Edmund C. Stanton. The opera has fine moments which may be enjoyed rationally even by lovers of the true music drama. To be sure, we miss the loftiness of design that is found in Verdi's later productions, but we cannot and need not desire to avoid the admission that there is some ground for the work's hold upon life during thirty years. If "Un Ballo in Maschera" can live that long we may reasonably hope that "Otello" will totter through a quarter of a century, and that "Die Meistersinger" and "Der Ring des Nibelungen" will be able to withstand for another decade or two the repeated onslaughts of such powerful organs of musical thought as the London "Musical Times" and the daily papers of Bordeaux.

We have said that the performance was taken seriously last evening. An exception must be made in favor of Herr Perotti, who was not in the same mood as his associates. He was evidently without respect for this nondescript opera, and he gamboled through some of its scenes like a young lamb. In the hut of Ulrica, the sorceress, Count Richard, in Perotti's hands, became a reckless young Puritan bent on making a night of it, and determined to incarnadine the multitudinous suburbs of Boston. However, to adopt the technical terms of the brotherhood of red paint, he "braced up" in the subsequent scenes, and was the same industrious and aspiring tenor as of yore. He exhibited his high notes with his usual readiness, and sang powerfully. It was not, however, till after the duet with Lehmann that he seemed to awake to a realization of the fact that he was not performing the entire opera.

Frau Lehmann was the Amelia of the evening, and it is safe to say that the dramatic force of the role was never so fully displayed before to a New York audience. Her singing was equal to anything that could have been done by a great Italian singer, and her acting was far beyond that which the Italian stage has been in the habit of associating with Verdi's earlier works.

Herr Reichmann was the René, or Renato, and his work was only marred by a desire to be truthfully dramatic instead of purely vocal, as Verdi's measures generally demand in this work. However, he sang the aria known as "Eri tu" in the Italian version with much fervor and with good lyric effects.

Frau Sontag-Uhl was a sad and solemn sorceress: Fräulein Betty Frank, a diminutive and soft-voiced page; and Herren Behrens and Arden a decidedly lugubrious and foreboding team of unanimous conspirators, The opera was put on the stage sufficiently well, though it was not probable that any of the localities were recognized by those habitués of the boxes who were familiar with Boston in the seventeenth century. Herr Seidl conducted the performance and regarded some of the new departures of the chorus with awe.

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