Giuseppe Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
Plácido Domingo (Gustavus III), Katia Ricciarelli (Amelia Anackarström), Piero Cappuccilli (Renato Anackarström), Gwynne Howell (Count Ribbing), Paul Hudson (Count Horn), Reri Grist (Oscar), Elizabeth Bainbridge (Madame Arvidson), William Elvin (Cristiano), Francis Egerton (Arnfelt), John Carr (Amelia’s Servant), Royal Opera Chorus and Children from Edith Cavell School, Robin Stapleton (Chorus Master), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Meyer Stolow (Concert Master), Claudio Abbado (Conductor), William Bundy (Original Staging Director/Lighting Designer), Otto Schenk (Stage Director), Jürgen Rose (Set and Costume Designer), John Vernon (Television/Screen Director), Tommy Thomas (Television Lighting)
Recording: © BBC/Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation, London, England (1975) – 138’
Opus Arte OA 1236D – Format 4:3 – LPCM 2.0 – All regions – Booklet in English, French and German – Subtitles in English
This much-beloved Verdi opera is handsomely rendered in Covent Garden’s 1975 depiction with a turn back to Sweden. Jürgen Rose’s opulent and period-appropriate set and costume designs, tempered by generalized mellow/moody lighting by William Bundy, magnify the roster of par excellence principals which set the stage afire. For posterity, Opus Arte decided to retain the recording in its original Standard Definition and picture format. While purists will rejoice in this unadulterated capture, the entire experience would have been elevated one more level with sound enrichment.
At age 34, Plácido Domingo is a well-positioned Gustavus III, exceedingly radiant in voice and in interpretive skills. The brewing love triangle is made all the more palpable with Katia Ricciarelli’s Amelia and her exceptional strength and poise as a dramatic lyrical soprano. Claudio Abbado dictates a superb tempo, knowing when to pull back the throttle and when to step on the pedal. Further, the maestro shows pliability by allowing singers to actually take command of the music, most notably when Amelia sings her emotionally wracked aria, “Non sai tu che se l’anima mia” in Act II: baton flexibility strengthens singer to move more freely inside his/her own rôle.
Baritone Piero Cappuccilli’s projection is consistently stalwart, though the conveyance of his “Eri tu” doesn’t persuade strongly enough within this two-sided aria. Rounding out the principals, Reri Grist is the quintessential Oscar, a page who dispenses with all the appropriate nuances and vocal acrobatics, while the deep bass dimensions wrapped up inside Gwynne Howell’s and Paul Hudson’s Count Ribbing and Count Horn, respectively, continue to heighten the drama as the opera proceeds into Act III. Aiding Un ballo with impending doom and menacing consequences, the occult is strongly magnified via Elizabeth Bainbridge as Madame Arvidson.
One of the beauties of Un ballo in maschera is that Verdi wrote with economy and a fast-moving storyline in mind. Even the abbreviated English subtitles congeal the dialogue, thereby fastening more attention towards music and acting.
There’s really nothing to not like in this Opus Arte collection: well-executed and well-delivered... a most noteworthy addition for Verdi opera lovers.