Outsanding production only hampered by poor visuals
David | North Carolina, USA | 11/18/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Met's 1980 production of Un Ballo in Maschera is set in colonial Boston on the eve of the Revolutionary War. This is the setting Verdi chose after the censor's refusal to allow the opera to take place in Sweden. It was to have been based on a historical event, the assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III. History or not, having a king assassinated at a masked ball on the operatic stage was simply too controversial in 1859, and Verdi was forced to change the setting to Boston and the king to a governor! Ballo would be an outstanding work no matter where it were placed, as it has an rivetting story filled with growing tension set to some of Verdi's most beautiful music. Pavarotti is at the peak of his illustrious career as the Governor of Boston, and for that reason alone this DVD will be of great interest to opera fans. That is not to say that Pavarotti outshines the rest of the cast, for it made up of a fine constellation of stars. Katia Ricciarelli is inspired and truly gets into her character, Amelia. Louis Quilico has what must be one of the great performances of his career, and Judith Blegen shines in the travesti role as Oscar. Bianca Berini as Ulraca is somewhat lackluster, as her performance lacks fire and menace. That aside, this is a great performance of Ballo, and it would be difficult to top it. It is therefore a great shame that the picture quality is so poor, especially in the numerous night scenes. In the more dimly lit scenes the picture is often grainy and blurred to the point of distraction. This truly great performance deserved much, much better treatment. The sound quality is average, but fortunately it fares much better than the overall picture quality. In short, this is a diamond performance that should have been one of the all-time great opera performances captured on DVD but for serious short-comings on the technical end."
Powerful Singing and Acting from Pavarotti and Ricciarelli
Robert Petersen | Durban, South Africa | 04/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The MET opera's previous production of Ballo, set in colonial America was premiered and recorded in 1980. Both Luciano Pavarotti and Katia Ricciarelli were at the height of their vocal powers and it shows. Pavarotti's love for the score translates well to the screen, even though he may not be the most imaginative actor around. Ricciarelli is even more effective as Amelia; as a singing actress of the highest order, her interpretation is both strong voiced and well acted. Louis Quilico as Renato is in good voice and Judith Blegen is a dashing Oscar. Bianca Berini is a bit of a low point as Ulrica, not eclipsing Florence Quivar in the subsequent MET recording. Patane's conducting is often at odds with his lead singers and the camera focus could be better at times, but this is a fantastic opportunity to see and hear both Pavarotti and Ricciarelli in their prime."
PAVAROTTI AT HIS PRIME
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 02/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD features a dream cast of singers with Pavarotti at his prime in a role that is coveted by many tenors. This is one of Pavarotti's best recorded renditions of this role and possibly his best performance on DVD so far. He seems relaxed, confident and almost enjoying himself. The rest of the staff is stellar. The conductor Patanè is an old hand in this repertoire. It's pure joy to listen to his experienced and attentive tailoring of his tempi to the singers (and vice versa - very good team work), as well as taking charge with gusto when the soloists aren't in center stage. He achieves this with no idiosyncratic mannerisms or forcing of his style. His approach sounds so natural that it's easy to overlook his contribution to the success of this unforgettable performance.Despite the memorable performance the picture quality is barely acceptable. Practically all the Pioneer Classics ("PC") DVD's have poor picture quality. Worse examples are: La forza del destino, Lucia di Lammermoor, Hansel and Gretel, Metropolitan Opera - Centennial Gala and Manon Lescaut. The Francesca da Rimini is of equal picture quality. The best is the Idomeneo DVD, also with Pavarotti. But even that falls short of what can be expected on this medium. Inadequate lighting exacerbates the problem in many of the MET productions issued by PC DVD's. All of them are copied from the laser disc masters rather than from the originals. In addition to that, most are from the 80's and show their age."
Verdi's triumph over censorship
E. A. Lovitt | Gladwin, MI USA | 10/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Giuseppe Verdi originally got this opera past the censors by disguising the liberal Swedish monarch Gustavus III, who really was shot in the back, as the fictional Riccardo, Governor of Boston. This Metropolitan Opera production follows Verdi's political change of scene, and is set in 18th century Boston on the eve of the American Revolution (one of the conspirators is a ringer for a youthful Tom Paine in glasses). This Elijah Moshinsky production is true to history in that the tenor is also shot in the back, so ignore the fact that our hero claps his hands to his massive chest before he tumbles to the ballroom floor.Viva Verdi! Viva Pavarotti! Like all great singers, Pavarotti possesses an instantly recognizable voice. His is an unusually large lyric tenor, and in this 1980 recording of Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera," he displays a youthful beauty of tone. His bright timbre and exuberant personality might seem more appropriate to the Duke of Mantua in "Rigoletto," rather than the conscientious Riccardo, governor of Boston. However, it is also a very special experience to hear Pavarotti sing Riccardo and he does much to lighten up this rather dark production. It is easy to understand why Kattia Ricciarelli as Amelia falls in love with him.Pavarotti has a relatively lean stage presence in this production, without his famous handkerchief and tent-like costume, but it would still be too much to expect him to act out a subdued death scene at the masked ball. Lean physique or not, we can't conceive of lean acting from this exuberant tenor.Katia Ricciarelli, who has also recorded a 'Ballo' with Placido Domingo, is in her prime in this recording, which takes place before the heavier Verdi soprano roles and 'Turandot' supposedly ruined her voice. Here, she possesses a sweet lyric soprano and a lovely stage presence that surely would have melted a heart less hard than her husband's, as she kneels before him and sings "Morrò, ma prima in grazia."If only Amelia had stayed on stage and listened to Renato's dramatic and sorrowful "Eri tu," I'm convinced this operatic couple would have been tenderly reconciled.Oh well, this is opera, not life. The late Louis Quilico was 55 in 1980 when this production was recorded. His baritone was not as smooth or beautiful as other baritones that the Met had in its stable at the time, but I think his portrayal as the ageing husband of Ricciarelli's young, beautiful, tempted-to-stray wife was very poignant. He would not have gotten such a tumultuous reception to his big aria, "Eri tu" if he had not convinced the audience of his rage and sorrow.The American soprano Judith Blegen, who was a frequent duettist with Frederica von Stade, is one of the highlights of this recording. She sings a buoyant, brilliant Oscar, most especially in her teasing aria, "Saper vorreste" in reply to Renato's inquiry about Riccardo's disguise at the masked ball."