[Met Performance] CID:260420

Un Ballo in Maschera
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, February 8, 1980

Review 1:

Review of Patrick J. Smith in Opera

Infelicitous 'Ballo'

The subtlety of the modern "régisseur" knows no bounds. The libretto of "Un ballo in maschera" is notorious for its verbal infelicities and occasional stupidities. What, then, could be more appropriate than a staging which is entirely infelicitous and frequently very stupid? And that is precisely what Elijah Mosinsky, in a strikingly unfortunate debut, has given to the Metropolitan Opera (February 8).

The opera was set by Peter Wexler in a Stoskade of wooden slats dropped on three sides to within about eight feet.of a steeply raked and raised platform stage. On this slope, to indicate the scenes, were placed various pieces of furniture (a large number of them, plus thrown-about books and paintings and a child's rocking horse for Renato's parlour - one could see why he might want to kill his wife). Costumes and furniture were supposed to suggest 18th-century Boston (except for Ulrica's hut, which was made a meeting-house for 17th-century Salem witches). The front-cloth facing the audience before each act depicted the Boston Massacre of 1770, and there were red-coat soldiers here and there in the court scenes apparently to demonstrate that in this opera (as in "Lulu") revolution lurks in the wings.

Most clever of all, perhaps, is Moshinsky's insight into the fact that people in 18th-century Boston would not understand Italian. Thus Riccardo had no need to worry at the way the whole court was listening to him, in a kind of "tableau mort," while he mused in the first act on his love for Amelia. He had no need even to be concerned, though death plucked at his elbow, about those who were eavesdropping on his passionate farewell to her in the ball scene. Even more striking was the climactic moment of the Ulrica scene, when Riccardo both musically and textually ("Ma come fa da ridere la lor credulita") is expressing his amused superiority to all those who are horrified by the witch's prediction that he will die by the hand of a friend. In Moshinsky's version Riccardo was no such elitist. He was visibly staggered by the news and could not overcome his concern despite the help given by the orchestra. Neither could he bring himself to offer his hand to his companions after the seer dropped the second shoe - until, fortunately, Renato entered with outstretched arm.

When the conspirators caught Amelia with, as it turned out, Renato, he failed to realize that they wished her to unveil - understandably so, because Tom did not, as the libretto proposes, approach her for that purpose. Amelia indeed remained safely down-stage while her husband out of sheer distemper began fighting with the traitors. She then unveiled to the audience and ran back to stop the fight. The conspirators, astounded at the fish they found in their net, thereupon sang "Ve' se di notte" not to each other, but directly to Renato (perhaps thinking that the tune would console him).

Enough. Except for Luciano Pavarotti, who is always a generous artist and loves this role, it was not very good musically either. Giuseppe Patané does not seem to have any strong view of the score except that other conductors take it too fast; and while the Met orchestra is now in excellent shape, it does need a little more help than it received in order to come in all at the same time at elements like the beginning of the second act. Katia Ricciarelli's Amelia was variable and occasionally wobbly (she was reportedly indisposed), at her best in "Morro, ma prima in grazia." Louis Quilico's Renato was wooden, far from sumptuous - but serviceable, more than could be said for the Ulrica of Bianca Berini who suffered severe problems at the register break. Judith Blegen's boyish rather than flighty Oscar was disturbingly small-scale except when she was at the front of the platform, but this may have been in part because the slatted box did strange things to the stage acoustic. William Wilderman was a sonorous and alert Samuel, and Julien Robbins an interestingly sinister young Tom who laughed with real delight at Amelia's exposure.

In the end, Pavarotti kept the evening from total disaster. The voice no longer has the sheen of some years ago, but the liquidity of his Italian, his musicality and his accuracy still give great pleasure. "Ma se m'e forza perderti" is a special favourite of his (he sings it in recital programmes), and this Ballo suddenly came alive when, alone on the stage, his eyes locked on Patané for purposes other than the receipt of instructions, Pavarotti gave us the noble passion of one of Verdi's most complex and troubled characters. At this one moment in the evening, the house exploded with real enthusiasm.

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