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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Un ballo in maschera (1859) [127:03]
Riccardo - Jan Peerce (tenor)
Renato - Leonard Warren (baritone)
Amelia - Daniza Ilitsch (soprano)
Ulrica - Margaret Harshaw (mezzo-soprano)
Oscar - Pierrette Alarie (soprano)
Silvano - John Baker (baritone)
Samuele - Giacomo Vaghi (bass)
Tom - Lorenzo Alvary (bass)
Un Giudice - Leslie Chabay (tenor)
Un servo - Lodovico Oliviero (tenor)
Metropolitan Opera & Chorus/Giuseppe Antonicelli
rec. live 22 November 1947, Metropolitan Opera, New York
ADD mono
No notes, texts or translations
WALHALL WLCD0054 [57:58 + 69:05]

This live performance from the Met was first issued in the early 50’s by Classic Editions, but the LPs were swiftly withdrawn when it was discovered that the wrong casting details had been appended. Many years later, the Gala label repeated and thereby compounded the error by issuing their CD version with the same, erroneous, cast list from an earlier Roman performance in 1941, featuring Maria Caniglia, Galliano Masini and Carlo Tagliabue, conducted by Gino Marinuzzi. The correct cast is given below and this Walhall 2 CD set makes no such mistake; however, as usual, their booklet could hardly be more minimalist: just a tracklist without timings and the cast on the back cover – and that’s it (hence the CD timings above are my own calculations).

The sound is peaky and there is some overload on loud, high or concerted passage but given its age and provenance it is quite acceptable and by all accounts superior to the Gala set.

The entry of each lead singer here is greeted with warm applause. All their names will be known to opera buffs with the possible exception of Daniza Ilitsch – at least, that was the case with me. Both Peerce and Warren are in spectacular voice and let us know it; it’s a treat to hear such hefty, resonant voices filing an auditorium but the opera demands rather more than vocal sand-blasting. Peerce belts his way through the opening aria and sings throughout in almost unremitting forte; it is a grand sound but relentless. He finds little tenderness for his big Act 3 renunciation aria, making it instead a great, passionate outpouring of grief and pain. Warren, likewise, goes for broke from the start, hanging on to his top G in “Alla vita che t’arride” for five or six seconds and the audience loves it. However, he manages to find pathos and poignancy for the “O dolcezze perdute! O memorie” section of “Eri tu” and the audience acknowledge that refinement with prolonged applause. Whereas Peerce was extraordinarily consistent over a long career, Warren’s tone became increasingly constricted through the 50’s until his premature death, but I don’t think I have ever heard him in better voice than here.

I was unfamiliar with the conductor here before including his excellent La traviata in my recent survey and I refer you to correspondence on the Message Board with MusicWeb colleague Rob Maynard for more background to his career. That precipitated my acquisition of this recording and I was not disappointed; everything he does here is ideally gauged, I think; I am no more aware of any longueurs than I am of being rushed and the whole things bowls along seamlessly.

The principal ladies here are much less impressive. I cannot say I respond positively to Ilitsch’s bumpy line and alternately metallic and squeaky soprano; it is all needle and no thread without the ample, sumptuous tone and ability to float a note which the role of Amelia requires. Her voice has little carrying power in its middle regions and disappears altogether below the stave, and too many top notes are harsh; the top C in “Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa” is just horrible. She often sounds short of breath, too, frequently wavering in “Morrņ, ma prima in grazia”. There are fleeting moments when she improves but she is very inconsistent. In my survey of Elektra I was uncomplimentary about her Chrysothemis for Mitropoulos in 1950 and I am afraid she is no better here. Margaret Harshaw as Ulrica has an even, well-produced voice but her low notes are penny-plain, and her characterisation is minimal; she provides no frisson at all in her portrayal of the witch and might just as well be running a beauty salon as dispensing supernatural prophecies. Pierrette Alarie is too pretty and feminine as Oscar, a rare – unique? – example of Verdi writing for a woman in a breeches role – a practice he did not like; (s)he is, after all, supposed to be a page boy not a soubrette. Met regulars fill the supporting roles adequately, if unmemorably.

The weaknesses on the distaff side here and the unvarying, gung-ho singing from Peerce preclude this from receiving a strong recommendation, but it is interesting to hear how such a red-blooded performance obviously pleased the Met audience; furthermore, it provides testimony to the beauty of Warren’s voice at its best and the skills of an under-recorded conductor.

Ralph Moore

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