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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Un Ballo in Maschera

Gustavo III - Luciano Pavarotti (ten)
Renato Anckarsrom – Leo Nucci (bar)
Amelia – Aprile Millo (sop)
Ulrica – Florence Quivar (con)
Oscar – Harolyn Blackwell (ten)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/James Levine
Recorded 1991
PCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1
DG-DVD 073 029-9 [137 minutes]


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The DVD is a recording of a production of the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1991 and is very much what we would expect from this famous company. It is a traditional production, well staged and sung by a high class cast.

Verdi and his librettist had originally intended that The Masked Ball would be set in the late 18th Century setting of the court of Gustavus III of Sweden. However this was not acceptable to the censor and it was changed to an imagined colonial Boston. In this production the opera has been set in its intended Swedish setting and appropriate changes made to the text. The staging reflects the setting and the scenery has a deliberately heavy feel which accentuates the sombre atmosphere of the opera. Nonetheless, all sets and costumes are lavish – clearly the ‘Met’ does not penny pinch with its productions. In particular the final scene "A large and sumptuously decorated ballroom" accurately reflects the description and the fancy dress costumes are really splendid.

The Masked Ball is a favourite role of Pavarotti who is in good form and his performance would be hard to surpass. He has great stage presence and his acting whilst rather static is effective due to his expressive facial characterisation which is well caught on film. The role of Renato, the friend who turns assassin is an important baritone part which is performed here by Leo Nucci who is excellent. The part of Amelia is taken by the native New Yorker Aprile Milo who has a beautiful soprano voice (but does not surpass the stunning Callas performance in the famous 1956 recording). Florence Quivar as Ulrica the fortune teller sings well and has good stage presence; Harolyn Blackwell has a good light soprano voice but has a tendency to overact. The minor characters and the chorus are very good.

As in all the later Verdi operas, the Orchestra has a vital and far from easy role. James Levine is an experienced conductor and produces good results from the excellent orchestra and achieves a good balance with the voices (with the orchestra not being as receded as it so often is in recorded opera); he is successful in achieving the right balance between the often light music in juxtaposition to the underlying drama. In the final act, however his tempi seemed increasingly slow towards the dramatic ending.

Overall this is a good presentation of a musically satisfying performance.

Arthur Baker


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