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Verdi: Un Ballo In Maschera (Recorded Live At The Teatro Real Madrid September 2008) [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]
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Passion, loyalty and political conspiracy are the three pillars of Un ballo in maschera (1859), the ‘most operatic of all operas’. Set in 19th-century Boston, Mario Martone's atmospheric production for the Teatro Real brings out all the innate theatricality and drama of Verdi's work. World famous Argentinean tenor Marcelo Álvarez, in the role of Riccardo, leads a fabulous cast including Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana as his lover Amelia, and Elena Zaremba as the witch Ulrica. Jesús López Cobos conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real in a performance that emphasises the lyricism and majesty of this wonderful work, in which grand opera and opera comique are woven together with classic Italian style.
"Marcelo Álvarez surely has the most beautiful tenor voice to be heard today in any opera house…Violeta Urmana is one of the few dramatic sopranos regularly active just now and it is a pleasure to listen to her in such a demanding part as Amelia...Young Alessandra Marianelli made an exemplary Oscar, both as an actress and as a very accomplished singer. The role fits her like a glove and she was perfect...The orchestra gave a very good performance and the Chorus was on top form." (Seen and Heard International)
"The field of recommendable Ballos on DVD is not exactly crowded and the competition for this one comes mainly from Pavarotti and Domingo (twice each), but if you want a modern, wide-screen version that won’t ruffle any feathers and features some excellent Verdi singing from the leads then this one shouldn’t disappoint.
" (Musicweb International)
CastMarcelo Álvarez (Riccardo)Violeta Urmana (Amelia)Marco Vratogna (Renato)Elena Zaremba (Ulrico)
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real; Jesús López CobosStage Director: Mario Martone
Catalogue Number: OABD7048DDate of Performance: 2008Running Time: 144 minutesSound: 5.1 PCMAspect Ratio: 1080i High Definition / 16:9Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, ITLabel: Opus Arte
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and though she sings very well (particularly in the gallows field duet) Likewise the tenor too. I found my
attention wadering. The baritone sings well but looks like a pirate with his enormous earring. I thought the period
to me victorian were earrings that big for men then ????
The prophetess was some sort of Cajun indian, this was i think the guvenor of boston version.
The ball its self really not costumed very well at all. and though I found the mirror over the stage visually clever i spent a lot of time trying to work out what i was watching and where they were on the stage. so effectively distracting.
why or why do places go into these productions together and still insist on taking them on when they have not been remotely successful in the first place they premired
Now for the downside, the stage director obviously does not believe in realism and has not read Verdi's stage directions either. Ulrica's cave is some non-descript, multi-story establishment. Act II takes place in the middle of some rubble, produced by a number of semi-collapsed walls, with the odd bit of grass sticking somewhere between the stones. There is hardly any space to move in between all this. The first scene of Act III takes place in Renato's study where on one side there is a large object covered up by what looks like a blanket, with a bucket full of paint underneath. During Renato's aria "Eri tu" he lifts the blanket to reveal a larger than natural size statue of Riccardo lying on his back. The final scene with the "ballo" takes place in a room of mirrors, which give an odd effect at times. When Riccardo is wounded, he is left lying on the floor, to die in front of all his guests. Only at the very end Oscar pulls him to a chair, in which he finally collapses and dies.
As to the singers, Violetta Urmana does an honest job in bringing Amelia's character to life. Her singing is good, not outstanding and her acting is moderate. Marcelo Alvarez as Riccardo sings adequately, but is terribly wooden in his acting and stage presence. Marco Vratogna is simply bad. He cannot sing, nor can he act. His shaven head and the one earring simply do not add to the picture either. Allessandra Marianelli does a good job of her role, as Oscar and the conspirators are acceptable.
Un Ballo in Maschera is one of Verdi's nicest operas and I would certainly rate it well within his top 10 works. It is tuneful in parts, light and fresh in others (especially in Oscar's music) and really dramatic in others like the scene with Renato and the conspirators in act III. It contains what is arguably Verdi's most romantic and emotionally charged love duet in act II. It has suffered from the sensors of the time, when the original setting in Sweden, with King Gustav being assassinated in act III, had to be changed to Boston with the British governor, taking the place of the king. Verdi re-wrote the opera with these changes in mind and the music rhymes with the new names. The modern tendency to go back to the original does not work musically. This production is indeed in Boston, so on that account I have little to complain about. If one wanted to get the full impact of Verdi's score, audio only and mono sound at that, I refer the reader to the EMI 1956 recording with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi and Fedora Barbieri. This, together with the live performance from La Scala in December 1957, with mostly the same cast remains a milestone in productions of this opera anywhere.
Happily, none of this applies to Alessandra Marianelli in the role of Oscar, Riccardo's page, who sang well and gave an upliftingly vivacious performance. Whilst Violeta Urmana as Amelia sang well, I nevertheless couldn't help feeling that something was lacking and that she wasn't quite right for the part. Sadly, Marco Vratogna was abysmal as Amelia's husband Renato.
Although, generally speaking, there's plenty of good singing, I could not rid myself of the feeling that it could all have been done much better. All told, it's a sad let down for Verdi as we prepare to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.
The audio quality via PCM 5.1 is first rate, complementing the excellent playing and singing of the Madrid Chorus & Orchestra conducted by Jesus Lopez Cobos. The two lead singers, Marcelo Alvarez and Violeta Urmana were unknown to us but their singing was glorious and backed up by other impressive artists. Elena Zarmba capably sung the role of Ulrico, the fortuneteller, but although her voice was suited to the role in timbre etc, she lacked power in that voice to be as convincing as possible so was a minor disappointment.
The settings were traditional and appropriate but the occasional reference to America in the libretto seemed totally out of place. The historical reason for that is originally Verdi encountered public outrage when his storyline centred around the real life assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III. The opera ran into such heavy censorial opposition that Verdi ended up suing the original theatre for whom the piece was originally written. What the libretto illustrated was just not politically correct involving as it did, regicide as subject matter. The legal suit was never pursued to the end and the compromise was to reset the locale to Boston and demote the King to that of Count.
Bottom line is that this Blu Ray production is a very worthwhile addition to the library. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would expect all Verdi opera lovers to do likewise.
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