Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Directed for Stage by Ermanno Olmi
Stage Design & Costumes: Arnaldo Pomodoro
Picture Format: 16:9 anamorphic (widescreen)
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0 (all)
Subtitles : Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet Notes: English, German, French
Running Time: 137 mins
Review of DVD version:
This DVD presents the second version of Un ballo in maschera, with the action set in
Boston. Tall claims are made for the production in the accompanying notes and the commentator almost renders a critic redundant with remarks on the performances themselves. I prefer to make up my mind for myself. There is little doubt that many will be drawn to this DVD because of Riccardo Chailly’s involvement. He conducts a performance that is well paced, but occasionally he fails to elicit requisite weight of tone or character from the Gewandhaus musicians. The former might be attributed to the recording, which does slightly favor the voices over the pit; but with the latter the buck stops at the podium. The video direction judiciously mixes general stage shots with close-ups to keep your attention where it should be.
Ermanno Olmi’s stage direction is for the most part uncomplicated and does not interfere too much with the action. If only the same could be said for Arnaldo Pomodoro’s costumes! Stylized costumes might be acceptable, but having Ulrica appear akin to an over-sized hedgehog is surely too much. Amelia finds to her horror that the desolate setting for “Ecco l’orrido campo” is a mass of blue netting that passes for a dress. Ensnared as she is within its grasp, any urgency of acting is largely confined to facial gestures and effortful pointless writhing.
Regarding the cast, most of whom were new to me, there is much to recommend this production. Massimiliano Pisapia is a man of large frame and equally large voice when he needs it to be. Clearly on home territory, he projects his role with a good sense of characterization and feeling for line. Franco Vassallo as Renato provides an excellent foil to Pisapia. His voice is clear and strongly produced, if occasionally a touch nasal in tone at the start, though this lessens slightly as the evening progresses. Eun Yee You, in the trouser role of Oscar, makes much of the opportunities afforded her. Displaying a suitably boyish hotheaded temperament, she contributes her fair share of vocal impetuousness, too.
Both of the main female roles are taken by singers that it would be hard to rival today. Chiara Taigi’s soprano is imposing, yet also supple enough to shade down delightfully when required. She might not be a fire-eater in the mold of Callas, but she is inventive enough with phrasing to make the part her own. Anna Maria Chiuri’s role as Ulrica limits her to a single scene, but this is all she needs to make her mark on proceedings. If only more mezzos had the courage to employ their lower vocal ranges with as much daring. The remaining supporting roles are well cast without exception.
Other Ballos on DVD include two of the Swedish version: Vienna State Opera in 1990 with Solti, Domingo, and Barstow (TDK DVUS-CLOPUBIM; reviewed in 29:1) or the Metropolitan Opera in 1991 with Levine, Pavarotti, Millo, Nucci and Quivar (Deutsche Grammophon 440 073 029-9; reviewed in 26:4). Overall, my slight preference is for the Swedish Ballo and for Solti’s DVD, but this new release provides a strongly sung alternative, should one prefer the opera’s Boston incarnation.
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Works on This Recording
Un ballo in maschera by Giuseppe Verdi
Chiara Taigi (Soprano),
Massimiliano Pisapia (Tenor),
Franco Vassallo (Bass),
Anna Maria Chiuri (Soprano),
Eunyee You (Soprano)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra,
Leipzig Opera Chorus
Written: 1859; Italy
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