WORKS: Un ballo in maschera
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Leo Nucci, Josephine Barstow, Florence Quivar, Sumi Jo; Vienna PO/Herbert von Karajan
CATALOGUE NO: 449 588-2 Reissue
Made in Vienna in 1989 only a few months before he died, this is one of Karajan’s finest recordings. He was always a fine Verdi conductor, and here, with the VPO playing with wonderfully rich and warm string tone, he gives a superb account of a great opera, in tempi which, although sometimes verging on the stately, nevertheless firmly convey the drama of the work.
As Gustavo (the characters are given their historical Swedish names, not their fictional Boston ones), Domingo brings an impressive weight of tone to the more heroic moments, a tone which he is able to lighten when required. Leo Nucci’s Renato is vividly characterised, Sumi Jo makes a sparkling Oscar and Florence Quivar a strong Ulrica.
Amelia is sung by Josephine Barstow, a soprano greatly admired by Karajan. In the opera house, the dramatic intensity of her acting diverts one’s attention from occasional vocal deficiencies, but on this recording her tone sounds constricted and unsteady for some of the time, though she improves from act to act. This performance, its recorded sound warm and immediate, is worth acquiring for the conductor’s interpretation, the orchestra’s beautiful playing and the stylishness of the tenor. Charles Osborne