Un Ballo in Maschera
Lewis, Gamberoni, Fiorillo; Meli, Stoyanov; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma, Gelmetti. Production: Samaritani. C Major 724208 (DVD) or 724304 (Blu-ray), 138 mins. (opera), 11 mins. (bonus), subtitled
From the opening pizzicato violins and woodwind figures, Gianluigi Gelmetti sets quick tempos for this Ballo, and he and his musicians command the score's light/dark contrasts and romantic sweep. Pristine but unbalanced sound that favors voices over orchestra helps us hear the precision of Verdi's writing when, after curtain rise, Sam, Tom and fellow conspirators sing staccato against the legato of the rest of the men's chorus.
Enter Francesco Meli as Riccardo, whose first note above the staff flies way sharp. Settled into the role, Meli sports handsome, generous tone that well fits the playful, giving character. In "È scherzo od è follia," he suggests laughter without inserting little laughs. He might have sung softly more often, but he's the most dominant and appealing of the principals. Vladimir Stoyanov finds Renato a bit large for him and sounds at his limits in "Eri tu," after which he breaks character to acknowledge applause.
Serena Gamberoni's Oscar is (refreshingly, some would say) not boyish or perky or pert; against Verdi's music at Gelmetti's speed, her movements seem downright sluggish. Not so her coloratura singing, which keeps pace and is accurate, if hardly sparkling. Elisabetta Fiorillo's intensely played Ulrica is afflicted by a wide vibrato, wayward pitch and a hooty upper register, especially in the "È lui! è lui!" passage. As for the Amelia of Kristin Lewis, the arching "Consentimi, o Signore" shows how her tone broadens in the middle and narrows high and low. Her voice can be beautiful when the line doesn't run too high, but her pinched, squally top and often-blank demeanor are problems.
Of the supporting roles, only Filippo Polinelli's firm Silvano is impressive. The sardonic Act II finale and the Act III conspirators' trio lose impact because the Sam and Tom sing with little bite.
Sets and costumes designed in the 1980s by Pier Luigi Samaritani ostensibly present a Boston setting, credibly so in Act I. Massimo Gasparon's standard stage direction seems acceptable until the ball, at which dancers cavort aimlessly, Renato's stabbing of Riccardo looks phony, and no one acts well enough to make the death moving. Tiziano Mancini's antsy video direction doesn't help by cutting from the Renato–Oscar and Riccardo–Amelia encounters to close-ups of dancers, guests and a violinist.
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