[Met Performance] CID:130000

Opening Night {56}, New Production, General Manager: Edward Johnson

Un Ballo in Maschera
Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, December 2, 1940

Debut : Alexander Sved, Mary Smith, Mstislav Dobujinsky

Un Ballo in Maschera (23)
Giuseppe Verdi | Antonio Somma
Zinka Milanov

Jussi Björling

Alexander Sved [Debut]

Kerstin Thorborg

Stella Andreva

Norman Cordon

Nicola Moscona

George Cehanovsky

John Carter

Lodovico Oliviero

Ruthanna Boris

Monna Montes

Lillian Moore

Mary Smith [Debut]

Grant Mouradoff

Josef Levinoff

Alexis Kosloff

Douglas Coudy

Ettore Panizza

Herbert Graf

Set Designer
Mstislav Dobujinsky [Debut]

Costume Designer
Ladislas Czettel

Boris Romanoff

Un Ballo in Maschera received five performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Oscar Thompson in the New York Sun:

An able and elaborate, if scarcely distinguished, revival of Verdi's "Masked Ball" opened the Metropolitan Opera's fifty-sixth season of opera last night. The house was full, with the limit in standees. Because of new revenue derived from the boxes and from additional seats in what was formerly the grand tier, receipts were reported higher than on any recent opening night.

In the attention given to the singers and the stage there was nothing to bear out the legend that on opening nights it is chiefly the audience that matters, not the opera. "Un Ballo in Maschera" is not the best nor the most exciting of Verdi's twenty-seven stage works, but it has its points. They were recognized and applauded, if not tumultously. The one demonstration of consequence was that which greeted Alexander Sved, the company's new Hungarian baritone, after his singing of "Eri tu".

Mr. Sved doubtless caused some genuine commotion-he is the first big-voiced baritone the Metropolitan has had since Titta Ruffo departed. Last night he presented some slight resemblances to Ruffo, not only in weight of the upper tones, but in the "growl" of his production. "Eri tu" was his best achievement. Elsewhere-and even there-he was not always mindful of the melodic line and was given to a variety of explosive utterances that often blurred both the quality and the pitch. As an actor he was elementary but virile. The railbirds will probably like him immensely in the more stentorian parts. Those who admire refined singing may have their reservations.

Mr. Björling was the more consistently good vocalist of the evening, exhibiting just those qualities of legato lyricism that Mr. Sved sacrificed in his quest of strenuous emphasis.

Review 2:

Review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune

New Stars, Old Diamonds

Orchestra and chorus shipshape. Costumes fair. Scenery banal and probably inexpensive. Ballet definitely amateurish. Stage direction mostly non-existent, except for the smooth moving of a large choral crowd in and out of a witch's den. Cast excellent, no doubt, in some other work. "Un Ballo in Maschera" itself a grand old piece.

Musicians have always been fascinated by the mature Verdi; the layman has long resisted him, except in "Aida." The case of "Un Ballo in Maschera" is clearly one of a score that has great musical interest and no small dramatic power (there is even a tune or two, though nothing like such expressive ones as are in "La Traviata" and "Il Trovatore") but that somehow, somewhere probably everywhere, has libretto trouble.

The story is clear but not in the least convincing. The characters are not even straightforward Italians masquerading as Swedes. They are just plain incomprehensible. Also there is no real love interest; and it is a very difficult thing to hold any public's attention in the theater unless the mating act is actually consummated by two of the characters at some time or other during the course of the story, if possible illegally.

The first act represents a dullish morning in the life of a not very busy king. Half way through the day's business, he decides to knock off and go see a fortune-teller. The fortune-teller's den turns out to be the unforeseen meeting-place of all the chief characters plus fifty or a hundred neighboring conspirators and housewives. The third act 'represents a lonely heath where the heroine is supposed to go pick an herb that will cure her of flirting with the king. It turned out in last night's production to be completely snow-banked, and no serious effort was made to find the plant. But naturally the chief characters, including the conspiratorial band, all turned up. The heroine was dragged home in disgrace by her husband.

In the fourth act, there is a short bit of domestic unhappiness, the unfortunate pair having got home all right, and then some more conspiracy. Finally an invitation is received and accepted to a costume party at the king's house. The fifth act shows the party and the assassination of the flirtatious king. Nothing could be less of a surprise, given the amount of preparation this event has received for five acts. The whole story and its culmination are about as banal and unmoving a news item as one can possibly imagine.

Zinka Milanov, the soprano heroine, has a voice of great power, range and beauty. It is particularly lovely when she sings softly. She has a tremolo when she sings loud. At her tremolo's worst, she sings off key. At its best, she does a pure whole-tone shake, or even one of a minor third, that sounds as if she were singing double-stops. Her acting last night was of the vaguest, her costume in the snow scene a paniered pyramid in which she could only flutter like a gigantic snowflake.

Jussi Björling, as the tenor king, was the most elegantly costumed of the cast; and he interpreted his role with dignity and some style, if no with passion. He has a smooth and handsomely schooled voice which he forced only once or twice. Kerstin Thorborg, alto and fortune-teller, sang smoothly but was not always as precise as she might have been in either rhythm or intonation.

Alexander Sved, barytone husband, conspirator and regicide (also Metropolitan débutant), got the evening's biggest hand for his rendition of the famous 'Eri tu" aria. His voice is smooth, though a little mealy-mouthed. I think he opens his jaw too wide. His rhythm gave Mr. Panizza, conducting, many a bad moment. I think his tendency to drag is probably due to the constrained throat position he has adopted for singing loud. He seemed to be easier about everything when he sang less loud and opened his mouth less wide. He acted with dignity. Stella Andreva, as a coloratura pageboy, sang lightly and accurately. Her acting needs some firm correcting. She ogled and swished incessantly.

Nobody in the cast, excepting possibly Mr. Björling, made any serious attempt to interpret character. Miss Thorborg and M. Sved posed a bit and let it go at that. Miss Milanov fluttered all the time and signified exactly nothing. Mr. Graf's much-advertised stage direction cannot have included much beyond merely moving the artists around.Everybody was miscast. All have light, clear voices. All tried to sing in the bravura style. All missed fire and forced at some point.

It seems to be a curious habit of the Metropolitan to ignore the utility of its artists' national temperaments and traditions. I have heard performances of French opera there in the past with at most one French singer, usually Rothier, in the cast. Last night's revival of a famous Italian work brought on the stage representatives of the musical cultures of Hungary, Greece; Sweden Yugoslavia and England. The closest thing to Italy in the whole distribution of labors was Mr. Panizza; and he was born, if I mistake not, in Argentina. Is it a wonder if the vocal declamation and general style of rendition, however agreeable at moments, should sound like anything in the world but real Italian opera?

Search by season: 1940-41

Search by title: Un Ballo in Maschera,

Met careers