LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Un ballo in maschera
PERFORMER: Marcelo Álvarez, Violeta Urmana, Marco Vratogna, Elena Zaremba, Alessandra Marianelli, Borja Quiza, Miguel Sola, Scott Wilde, César San Martín; Madrid SO & Chorus/Jesús López Cobos dir. Mario Martone (Teatro Real, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1017 D (NTSC system; dts surround; 16: 9 picture format)
Anyone who has seen the current production of Un ballo in maschera at Covent Garden will have a sense of familiarity as soon as this performance from Madrid’s lovely new Teatro Real begins. The production is shared by the two houses, something which is becoming common and has both advantages and disadvantages.
Act II of Ballo, which contains Verdi’s most passionate love duet (he wrote surprisingly few), preceded by an anguished aria for the heroine, here seems to be set in a collapsed building, not on a blasted heath; each soprano I have seen singing the role of Amelia in this production seems to have been made nervous by this setting.
The sorceress Ulrica is slinky and sexy – I suppose a sorceress might be, but I don’t think it was Verdi’s idea, to judge from her baleful music, and it isn’t mine. In the final scene there is an odd mirror effect, distracting more than helpful; it certainly doesn’t clarify what is going on in the complicated action of the last ten or so minutes.
Within this mildly odd framework a decent but not outstanding performance of this masterpiece of irony and passion takes place. The tragic hero is taken by the bulky Marcelo Álvarez, a capable tenor but not one who has much that is individual to give to this role of a generous, randy, insouciant and forgiving Governor.
The woman he loves is played by Violeta Urmana, an enthusiastic but also rather generalised artist, whose voice hardens in the top register. The kind-of-villain, her husband, is given a careful, possibly subtle reading by Marco Vratogna. You won’t be short-changed by this DVD, but you might wonder if Ballo should be admired as fervently as it tends to be. Michael Tanner