[Met Performance] CID:170940

Un Ballo in Maschera
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, February 17, 1956

Un Ballo in Maschera (66)
Giuseppe Verdi | Antonio Somma
Zinka Milanov

Jussi Björling

Robert Merrill

Jean Madeira

Laurel Hurley

Giorgio Tozzi

Norman Scott

Calvin Marsh

James McCracken

Charles Anthony

Dimitri Mitropoulos

Review 1:

Review of Jay S. Harrison in the Herald Tribune

Festivities were piled high at the Metropolitan Opera last night as Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" was presented for the final time this season. At the very start, conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos on walking to the podium found that this place had been usurped by Rudolf Bing who forthwith led the orchestra in a performance of "Happy Birthday" in honor of the maestro's sixtieth birthday which occurs today. It was, I should say, a classical reading of the piece, if a mite overzealous.

The evening's bounties, however, were not confined to Mr. Bing's swashbuckling baton technique. They also included Jussi Björling's first appearance at the Met this season and an extraordinarily vivid performance by the entire cast which included Zinka Milanov as Amelia, Robert Merrill as Renato, Laurel Hurley as Oscar, Giorgio Tozzi as Sam, Norman Scott as Tom and Jean Madiera who sang her first Ulrica of the year.

For those who know the work of Jussi Björling it is simply enough to state that he was, as ever, Jussi Björling. And for those unfamiliar with the tenor's voice I can only suggest that you buy a ticket to hear him even if it is necessary for you to burglarize your own children in order to do so. But be forewarned - do not expect a glamorous theatrical personality, a dramatic hero in stainless armor. Indeed, Mr. Björling is possessed of only two facial expressions: when he is happy he looks rather like a tickled cherub, and when he is sad he gives the impression of a Cupid who has somehow misplaced his arrows.

And does it matter? Not in any way, shape or form. For Mr. Björling is a glorious, full-throated tenor whose tones ring with color and are mostly true as a tuning fork's. His voice is fresh as spring water, clear, cool and unmolested by any faults of breath supply or control. In addition, Mr. Björling is equally at home in chipper, bumptious little melodies of which "Du tu se fedele" is one, and long-breathed, swooping arias that require for their full effectiveness the maintenance of an endless and pliable thematic line. Both types are plentiful in "Ballo" and Mr. Björling reeled them off with such ease it seemed they had been written with his special skills in mind.

"Welcome Back"

At the moment of his first appearance on stage as Riccardo, one exuberant standee gave forth a hearty 'Welcome Back!" It is a sentiment, I suspect, we all share.

As for Miss Milanov and Mr. Merrill they, too, were at their peak. Clearly, Miss Milanov needs the competition of lusty voices - something the Met has not provided her consistently this year - if she is to be at here best. When she hears great singing beside her, her singing in turn, turns great. And great it was on this occasion. Miss Madeira, however, sang with little beauty of tone, her low notes, particularly, emerging veiled and opaque. Still, it was an evening of rousing, heady performance. "Ball in Maschera" demands nothing less.

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