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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twilight Tebaldi and Resnik in pretty good studio "Ballo", 16 Sept. 2010
By 
L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Verdi: Un ballo in maschera (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
Studio recording made at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, in June 1970.

SOUND:
Basically good 1970s analogue stereo, although perhaps hyped with a bit more than natural reverberation. To my ear, it has a slightly old-fashioned quality, in that it gives vocal lines a bit more prominence over orchestral lines than has become typical in more recent recordings. As far as opera is concerned, I do not regard that as a fault.

CAST:
Riccardo, Royal Governor of Boston who loves Amelia - Luciano Pavarotti (tenor)
Renato, Riccardo's friend and chief political supporter - Sherrill Milnes (baritone)
Amelia, Renato's wife - Renata Tebaldi (soprano)
Ulrica, a witch who holds open meetings on the Boston docks - Regina Resnik (mezzo-soprano)
Oscar, Riccardo's page - Helen Donath (soprano)
Samuele, a conspirator with a grudge against Riccardo - Leonardo Monreale (bass)
Tomasso, another conspirator who also has a grudge - Nicolas Christou (bass)
Silvano, a low-ranking naval officer in pursuit of promotion - Jose Van Dam (baritone)
A judge - Pier Francesco Poli (tenor)
A servant to Amelia - Mario Alessandrini (tenor)

CONDUCTOR:
Bruno Bartoletti with Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia, Roma.

COMMENTARY:
"Un Ballo in Maschera" premiered at the Apollo in Rome on February 17, 1859. It followed the first version of "Simone Boccanegra" and the revision of "Steffelio" into "Aroldo," both in 1857. It was followed by "La forza del destino" in 1862. It is based on a libretto by the ubiquitous Eugene Scribe called "Gustave III."

"Ballo" is middle-period Verdi. While it is very much a standard repertory opera, it is not as beloved as "La Traviata" or as well known as "Aida." Nevertheless, "Ballo" is a brilliant work filled with soaring melodies, unforgettable ensembles and--most unusual for Verdi at this stage of his career--a sense of humor. Verdi was at his full power and had achieved complete control over all the elements of composition and production. "Ballo's" second act is a perfect example of music drama, reaching the faultless level of mastery of the first act of "La Traviata" and the second act of "La Boheme."

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the libretto is riddled one preposterous thing after another. The reason. of course, is politics. In 1792 King Gustavus III of Sweden was shot in the back by one Count Anckarstrom during a masquerade ball at the Stockholm Opera House. Scribe wrote his libretto, which of course made everything hinge on a love triangle rather than on dreary, dull Swedish politics. Verdi thought the libretto was worth putting to music (as had both Auber and Mercadante before him.) Verdi hired a hack named Antonio Somma to compress Scribe's five flabby French acts into three leaner, meaner Italian ones. Verdi then sat down to write his music in preparation for a premier in Naples.

At that point, the Neapolitan censors took a hand. After much very public dispute, the censors made their final decision: no royal murder, no masked ball, no opera. Verdi took the piece to Rome. In came the Papal censors. Verdi wearily agreed to changes in about sixty lines of the libretto. The opera which had been about a late 18th Century royal court was transformed--courtiers, confiscated castles, witches, pages, chorus-singing conspirators, elaborately costumed masqueraders and all--into a tale of Colonial Boston. Il Re Gustavo III became Riccardo, Earl of Warwick (pronounced in fine Italian fashion as WarWEEK), Royal Governor of Boston (if not, apparently, Massachusetts).

"Un Ballo in Maschera" lends itself to differing interpretations. In the wonderful wartime recording with Gigli, Caniglia and Bechi, it is a lighthearted schoolboy romp that goes unexpectedly, horribly wrong. In the old Met broadcast with Bjorling, Milanov and Sved (in pretty terrible sound, alas), it is a romance that overwhelms with sumptuous singing. The Callas-Di Stefano "Ballos" (a studio version followed by a captured live broadcast from La Scala) are tense, hard-knuckle drama from beginning to end, "Un Ballo in Medea," as it were. This performance, owing to the dramatically inert presence of Pavarotti inevitably takes a stand-and-deliver, sing-your-head-off approach.

As a previous Amazon US reviewer, Mr. Keelan, notes, the date of this recording is pretty much the key fact about it. In 1970, Pavarotti's career had reached its high plateau. Milnes and Donath were well-advanced on the upward climb. Tebaldi and Resnik were rounding out distinguished careers.

Pavarotti is in full Pavarotti-like form on this recording. I think Mr. Keelan quite accurately describes Pavarotti's performance--from the point of view of a Pavarotti fan. I am not exactly a member of that wide-spread (so to speak) body, but even I am impressed by certain passages. Why there are whole phrases in which Pavarotti almost convinces me that he actually has some vague idea of the plot of the opera!

Tebaldi's voice, measured against her younger self, shows a bit of wear, but she remains Tebaldi. And second-rate Tebaldi is still better than first-rate almost anybody else. In those soaring passages of the big duets of Act II, worn or not, she offers a thrilling sound.

Resnik is the worse for wear of the two prima donnas. The good, grey Gramophone Magazine said of this performance that she was "past her prime and an uncomfortable Ulrica." Maybe. Maybe. But why must a witch, even one who holds public meetings on the Boston docks, sound comforting?

Milnes is, as always, good and, as always, too stolid. Donath is fine as Oscar, but the role is hardly a landmark in her career. The rest of the cast is perfectly satisfactory, including a very young Jose Van Dam in the small part of Silvano the Sailor.

I acquired this recording for Tebaldi. However, Mr. Keelan, the Gramophone, and the majority of opera fans regard this "Ballo in maschera" as a Pavarotti recording--one in which he sings better than he did in the later, Solti-conducted set. For those who like his schtik, he gives himself in full measure. That being the case, the appropriate rating is five stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tebaldi too late, 7 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Verdi: Un ballo in maschera (Audio CD)
Tebaldi is painful to listen to at times in this recording. Pavarotti is wonderful and so is Milnes - both ideal for the roles. For that reason alone it is worth purchasing. But for five stars I would recommend...

1. Price/Bergonzi/Merrill/Leinsdorf - RCA
2. Callas/Di Stefano/Gobbi/Votto - EMI
3. Arroyo/Domingo/Cappuccilli/Muti - EMI
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrically Excellent, 11 May 2005
By 
K. Compton "compton1611" (Southampton, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Verdi: Un ballo in maschera (Audio CD)
I purchased this recording on LP box set in the late 1970's, and it was so exciting that I played it over and over again, eventually wearing it out, so I had to buy a second copy. I have only recently purchased this recording on CD, and my ears are still full of the wonderful melodies and lyrical tunes.
Although Tebaldi was past her prime on this recording, she still sounds beautiful and any mistakes are over looked. Pavarotti is at his prime, and his Riccardo is the best I have ever heard him; he sings the part with such gusto. Milnes is menacing and plays the part well especially when he has to turn from being a friend to a conspirator (very convincing), and as always convinces me of the part he plays. Donath is my ideal Oscar, and I just enjoy the trill in her voice. Although Resnik is not my ideal Soothsayer (Marilyn Horne being my ideal), she pulls the part off adequately.
If I only ever had one Verdi recording, it would be this one, and despite its age it still sounds fresh and new. You must buy this! You will not regret it.
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Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera by Giuseppe Verdi (Audio CD - 2004)
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