Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera received a splendid run in October 2011 at Parma’s Teatro Regio. This DVD was taken from the performances listed below. I can’t help wondering why it took six shows to put the recording together, but the result is fine. Much of the credit for the success of this production belongs to conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti. Born in 1945, Maestro Gelmetti has made his career in Europe. Though he has appeared in Japan and Australia, I do not believe he has conducted in the Americas. He has the Verdi style down pat and led a powerful reading of Verdi’ transitional masterpiece.
Ballo is the continuation of the remaking of Italian opera that Verdi began with Rigoletto. The action flow seamlessly such that the recitatives are as interesting as the arias and ensembles. When one compares Verdi’s recitatives with the spiritless whining that passes for dialogue in modern operas the realization of what has been lost is compelling and quite sad.
As should be expected from a Verdi production in Parma, the setting is Verdi’s original local of Boston at the end of the 17th century. The sets are spare, but very evocative. The costumes are lush and time appropriate. The acting is rudimentary, but Verdi’s score provides all the drama needed when in the hands of sensitive performers.
The opera’s biggest part is that of Riccardo the governor of colonial Boston who though portrayed as magnanimous and generous has made some lethal enemies. Francesco Meli (b 1980) has sung in most of the world’s major opera houses. He has so far appeared 11 times at the Met – as the Duke in Rigoletto and as the title character in Ernani. He has a bright lirico-spinto voice which is just about right for Riccardo. Here is the third act aria Ma se m’è forza perderti. Meli sings it with sensitivity and a firm tone. If he take care and has a little luck, he should have a major career.
Kristin Lewis (B 1985) is an American soprano. Only 26 years old when this recording was made she has a promising voice not yet ready for the big Verdi roles she has been assuming. While her tone was focused, it had none of the lushness or beauty of sound required for Amelia. She was the weakest of the principals. But her youth prevents a full impression of where she’s headed as a Verdi soprano.
The Bulgarian baritone, Vladimir Stoyanov (b 1969), received an ovation after Eri Tu Parma which he shamelessly milked for all the applause he could by breaking character to acknowledge the exuberant reception he received. He has a focused voice that is secure throughout its range. His sound could be a little darker to fully realize the menace that Verdi wrote into this role and which is also needed for most of the great baritone roles. He has sung at many of the major houses in Europe and America. He’s had 14 performances at the Met, all in 2008. He was Enrico in Lucia Di Lammermoor and Prince Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades.
Veteran Italian mezzo Elisabetta Fiorillo (b 1957) was appropriately ominous as the accurate soothsayer Ulrica. Soprano Serena Gamberoni displayed a little more voice than the pipsqueak soprano usually assigned the travesty role of the page Oscar. The rest of the cast were at the highest professional level.
This is a fine performance of a great opera. What makes this a first rate rendition of Verdi’s score is the outstanding conducting by Gelmetti and the first rate singing of Meli. Highly recommended. It’s available as a single DVD or as part of the complete set of Verdi’s operas issued by the Teatro Regio.
Riccardo – Francesco Meli
Renato – Vladimir Stoyanov
Amelia – Kristin Lewis
Ulrica – Elisabetta Fiorillo
Oscar – Serena Gamberoni
Silvano – Filippo Polinelli
Samuel – Antonio Barbagallo
Tom – Enrico Rinaldo
Un giudice – Cosimo Vassallo
Un servo d’Amelia – Enrico Paolillo
Parma Teatro Regio Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Martino Faggiani)
Gianluigi Gelmetti, conductor
Massimo Gasparon, stage director (after Pierluigi Samaritani)
Pierluigi Samaritani, set and costume designer
Andrea Borelli, lighting designer
Roberto Mari Pizzuto, choreographer
Recorded live from the Teatro Regio di Parma, 1, 5, 9, 13, 20, 23 October 2011