, October 2011
We are indeed lucky to have this excellent cast in this lavish production. Visually it is very traditional—no quirky ideas and innovations; just a truly beautiful and magnificent staging. Have a look at the cover picture above to see what I mean. Sir Georg was 78 at the time but as intense as ever in the dramatic moments—and there are many. He was also able to relax in a way he rarely did until the last few years of his career. All in all there could be no better foundation for a thrilling performance. The Vienna Philharmonic, who had known Solti since the 1950s, played like gods and the male voices of the Staatsopernchor were as ominous as any other opera chorus I have heard.
In the centre of the proceedings Plácido Domingo is noble and dignified. He sings better than in any of his three complete audio recordings, finding more nuances than ever—and the golden tone has lost none of its bloom. He sings the testing Di tu se fedele with ardour and elegance and the great duet with Amelia matches even the recording with Bergonzi and Leontyne Price for Leinsdorf. Domingo’s Amelia is Josephine Barstow, who for me was the disappointment on the Karajan recording. There I found her over-vibrant and shrill. A superb actor she was deeply involved and here she combines this quality with glorious singing. Her second aria is one of the highlights of this performance.
Leo Nucci…is serviceable here rather than excellent, rather dry-toned but he is a good actor and he has some fine moments of lyrical restraint in Eri tu. Florence Quivar is a magnificent Ulrica. She has a voice reminiscent of that of Shirley Verrett—a great Ulrica on the Leinsdorf recording. The diminutive Sumi Jo is a brilliant Oscar and Kurt Rydl and Goran Simic make the most of the conspirators Horn and Ribbing: Tom and Samuel in the Boston version.
Brian Large…never misses a point and lets the viewers savour the luxurious sets. I have seen some interesting ‘modern’ productions lately—thought-provoking and fascinating no doubt—but Schlesinger and William Dudley have here come up with something timeless and all-embracing. It’s hard to resist. Readers with non-traditionalist leanings should look elsewhere, but to everybody else, who needs one DVD-version of Un ballo in maschera, I can enthusiastically say: Here it is!