Dmitri Hvorostovsky (left) and Marcelo Alvarez in Un Ballo in Maschera


DIRECTOR: David Alden

CONDUCTOR: Fabio Luisi

CAST: Marcelo Alvarez, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Sondra Radvanovsky, Stephanie

Blythe, Kathleen Kim

SET: Paul Steinberg

COSTUMES: Brigitte Reiffenstuel

LIGHTING: Adam Silverman

RUNNING TIME: 220 minutes

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)

Paul Boekkooi

Born in the same year, 1813, Verdi differs considerably from his great German contemporary, Wagner. The former’s incredible achievement was that, over a period of almost 60 years, he led Italian opera from relative Donizettian innocence to post-Wagnerian wisdom.

Verdi conducted this humanising process virtually alone. No one less than Bernard Shaw admired “the relevance of every bar of his mature scores to the dramatic situation”.

This and many other qualities are experienced fully in David Alden’s original, but partly questionable conceptualisation found in this new Metropolitan Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), with a cast sent from heaven.

Opera is at all times as strong as its weakest link. Here one could say that this is how one would want every role to sound. Examples: the sheer élan of Marcelo Alvarez’s Riccardo (King Gustavo III), the unstinting force of Stephanie Blyth’s Ulrica, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, whose Renato sounds like a reincarnation of the legendary Italian baritone Ettore Bastianini.

There is also the dramatic soprano Sondra Radvanovsky’s gripping portrayal of Amelia. She is a remarkable product of the Met’s own Lindemann Young Artist Development Programme. Here she demonstrates her very special qualities as a Verdi interpreter: flawlessly controlled and full of unforced emotion.

The flighty naturalness in voice and dramatic portrayal of Kathleen Kim as Oscar, the page, is a wonder to behold. Her coloratura is not just brilliant but sweet too, while in the ensembles she keeps up with the main characters.

The basis of Un Ballo in Maschera’s story is a love triangle, but, as in most of Verdi’s operas, the situations around these basic developments are crucially cultivated and exploited. Very little is ever predictable. The scheming behind the scenes is as subtly developed as a top crime writer of our day would have tackled it. The only difference is that Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma, who based this one on Eugène Scribe’s libretto Gustave III, is filled with style and a timeless grandeur.

This Alden production, set in the early 20th century, is visually stark. Paul Steinberg’s mainly square sets, with moveable walls and ceilings, does evoke a sense of claustrophobia from which parts of his conception takes its clues.

At times the obvious symbolism is somewhat overdone, but in most of the scenes it is an effective tool, like at the opening of Act III where the confrontation between Renato and Amelia is absolutely riveting.

Fabio Luisi’s conducting is sharply chiselled and explores the atmosphere of each scene to the hilt. His powerful reading, admirably paced and with a splendid regard for the sparkle of the comedy (yes, even this is to be found in this score!), is highly commendable.

As always, the Met Chorus, never sounding overloaded with the wrong kind of expressiveness, demonstrates their range of power, richness and delicacy coupled with unparalleled firmness.

Apart from state-of-the-art filming, this production also reflects the singer’s voice quality in more natural dynamics than before.

Screening at all Cinema Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor theatres.