This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
This was the last of Toscanini's opera recordings, made from two broadcasts in January 1954 in New York's Carnegie Hall. Ball was a favourite with the conductor in the early years of his career; he conducted it at La Scala, Milan in 1903, at the Metropolitan in 1913-14 and again at La Scala in 1926. How one wished he had his Met cast here—Destinn, Caruso, Amato, Hempel, Matzenauer, or even the 1926 La Scala one with Pertile as Riccardo—but the important thing is that we do have his own magnificent reading preserved for posterity in very reasonable, if rather dry sound (there are also moments of distortion). His is a performance painted in primary colours with the lyrical and dramatic elements kept in perfect balance buoyed up on those
unerringly set rhythms. Details strike home—the passionate introduction to Act I, the chilling intensity of the prelude to Ulrica's scene and indeed to the gallows scene, the staccato strings underpinning "Ah, quel brivido" in the love duet, the drums, firstfff, then ppp, at the moment when Amelia draws the fatal name from the urn, the joyfulness of the offstage music in the final scene. These and so much else set off the performance as something very special in the annals of recording and are found to a similar but less extent only in Muti's version (EMI, 11/88) among relatively modern sets. That the great maestro's heart was with him to the end of his recording life is shown in the wonderful swell of feeling in the ensemble as Riccardo lies dying. There are one or two small faults that have got through, but they are as nothing when set beside the conviction and brio of the whole.
About the cast one can't be that enthusiastic. In Otelbo (eagerly awaited from RCA on CD) and Falstaff (RCA, 5/90), Toscanini instilled into his singers his own love of the composer and they in turn surpassed themselves. Here the material itself isn't quite good enough. Nelli seems a lesser singer than in those operas, often thin in tone and not notable for her line (how sad Milanov didn't take part), and Peerce, a late substitute for an ailing Bjdrling, is always obedient and straightforward but not the equal of the Swedish tenor in the 1940 broadcast now available on disc from the Metropolitan Opera itself, nor of Bergonzi (RCA, 11/88 and Decca, 9/90) or Domingo (DG, 9/86 and 11/89; EMI, 11/88) on more recent versions. The young Merrill makes his mark with his firm, plausible Renato, but lacks individuality of phrase—Amato with Toscanini must have made much more of his music. Virginia Haskins is a bright, likeable Oscar, Claramae Turner overparted as Ulrica. That said, nobody is inadequate enough to obscure Toscanini's singular vision and the playing of the orchestra is vital and pungent, giving life to the conductor's vision.
-- Gramophone [7/1991]
Works on This Recording
Un ballo in maschera by Giuseppe Verdi
Virginia Haskins (Soprano),
Herva Nelli (Soprano),
Norman Scott (Bass),
Nicola Moscona (Bass),
John Carmen Rossi (Tenor),
Jan Peerce (Tenor),
Robert Merrill (Baritone),
Claramae Turner (Mezzo Soprano),
George Cehanovsky (Baritone)
Robert Shaw Chorale,
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1859; Italy
Date of Recording: 01/1954
Venue: Live Carnegie Hall, New York City
Length: 121 Minutes 44 Secs.
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