About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Deus ex Machina

New York
Central Park
06/28/2000 -  
Giuseppe Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
New York Grand Opera
Vincent La Selva (conductor)

Summer in the city can be a difficult time for music lovers. Although the streets are clogged with tourists lining up for unbelievably vacuous Broadway shows and the normally reliable concert venues are rented to anyone who has the necessary capital to take over the house for the evening, the surging river of New York culture dries up to a mere trickle in a dry bed due to the hot sun and the mass exodus of the finest musicians to the comfort of the country and its wealth of interesting festivals. One of the few bright spots of the season is the New York Grand Opera, which mounts fully staged productions of the repertoire under the stars at Rumsey Playfield in our own verdant escape from urbanity, Frederick Law Olmstead's soothing Central Park. The adventurous Vincent La Selva is now embarking on the sixth of his seven-year traversal of all of the operas of Verdi, presented in chronological order. The audiences are always overflowing for these free events (New York is full of schnorers) and invariably one runs into old acquaintances who are either picnicking or ensconced in their own or the city's seating options, enjoying good quality performances in the sultry night air.

It is important not to confuse New York Grand Opera with the Metropolitan productions in another area of the park. The Met, whom one would think would be the better alternative, offers pale echoes of itself over on the Great Lawn with no sets or costumes and presents only potboilers in second hand versions, while New York Grand endeavors to recreate the total operatic experience with a highly dedicated group of musicians who obviously perform for the sheer joy of it all. Local celebrities mingle on the blankets with the rest of us and hizzoner Mr. Giuliani, a self-confessed Verdi fanatic, often attends surrounded by his security force (the only people who don't seem to be enjoying the experience immensely). The quality varies at these productions (at the Rigoletto the Gilda was so bad that when she was killed by Sparafucile everyone applauded) as does the weather (I'm hoping for some good lightning flashes during the opening of Otello next year) but that's all part of their overall charm. My favorite part is getting there early, not only so that my friends and I can get the party started with wine and delicious treats, but also because we can watch the chorus rehearse and observe the finishing touches of lighting and acoustics people and feel a vicariously expectant backstage atmosphere that adds to the excitement of the evening.

The bodies of work of Verdi and Shakespeare are in many ways parallel and listening to all of the operas over time reinforces the aggregate impression of a life of genius. Ballo is certainly a "problem play" and not just because the original Swedish story is squeezed into the ill-fitting locale of Boston (certainly not the Boston I know!). The opera has always seemed off balance to me and I only love it for the five minutes of Morro, ma prima in grazia which opens the final act. However, last evening Enrico Di Giuseppe made a believer of me, towering over both predictable plot and unfortunately necessary amplification system, to produce a Riccardo who sang not only mellifluously but also with just the proper sense of ennui and fatigue. Like Wotan at the magic fire, this powerful man must sacrifice his innermost secret true love to the jealousies and conventions of society. Di Giuseppe's silken but raveled tone was just the perfect vehicle to touch our collective hearts. Raemond Martin was a strong Renato and Katherine Harris, after a shaky start, passed my Act III opening test well, perhaps having previously husbanded her voice a little too much to be in full bloom during this big number. In typical New York Grand fashion, the supporting cast was weak and it was hard to remember that the great Selma Kurz made a specialty of the hosenrolle of Oscar, with its many trills and runs, when listening to the slur and blur of last night's severely overmatched entrant. But this performance truly belonged to Mr. Di Giuseppe and apparently even the gods agreed, choosing to spare him his usual assassination by washing away the masked ball scene in a cooling summer downpour. The rain had interfered in Act I as well (not only the audience, but the orchestra has no covering) and we had all enjoyed our showery interlude as an extension of our picnic time. However at the second interruption Maestro cancelled, promising to finish at a later date. All of this only increased the communal feel of the experience and we all went home with an outer glisten and an inner glow.

Viva Verdi!

Frederick L. Kirshnit



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com