» » Un ballo in maschera (1975)

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    • Author: Umi
    This opera has a troubled history. It is based on a true story of the assassination of an 18th century Swedish king but the authorities in Rome in 1859 were nervous about a plot concerning regicide. Eventually, after much negotiation, Verdi amended the plot so that it was the 18th century governor of Boston who gets assassinated. This film, like most modern productions places the action in its original Swedish setting.

    Maybe the frustrations of bringing this work into being had an effect on Verdi's creative process. It certainly does not contain his best music. Occasionally one hears echos of Aida or La Traviata but they only serve to underline the inferiority of Un Ballo in comparison with these works. Despite its origins in fact, the story lacks plausibility. Plácido Domingo plays King Gustavus as such a lovable monarch that it is difficult to see why most of his court is plotting against him. This lack of motivation is probably another result of the Roman censors' influence. There can be no suggestion of republican ideals behind the plotting, the motives have to be purely personal..

    As we know from numerous other Verdi operas, a ridiculous plot can be made plausible by convincing characterisation. Neither Domingo nor Katia Ricciarelli, as Amelia manage to achieve this. One never quite believes that the king and his lover, having been caught by her husband should be so naïve as to meet again the next evening at the fateful masked ball. It's no surprise that Gustavus gets stabbed. Domingo then plays one of the most ludicrous death scenes I have ever seen, even in opera. He makes more comebacks than Frank Sinatra as he continually seems to expire and then stagger to his feet again for one last chorus This is a historic performance but, even by 1975 standards, the set is shabby, the video is fuzzy and the sound is indifferent. Domingo makes one of his earliest film appearances and I feel that neither his voice nor his acting quite attain the exalted standard that he reached during the 1980s and 1990s. Look out, however, for Reri Grist in the trouser role of Oscar, Gustavus's secretary. She steals every scene that she appears in.

    Mrs G is at a conference in Belfast this week so, the night after I watched this, I was able to watch the 2001 La Scala film of the same opera. I was amazed at the difference and I retract all of my criticism of Verdi and most of my criticism of the opera. For more details see my review of Un Ballo in Maschera (2001).
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    • Author: Kardana
    Un Ballo in Maschera is not one of Verdi's best works, that I do agree with. The story is in some way implausible, however the music while not Verdi's best by all means overall is brilliant. For me the highlight has always been Renato's Eri Tu, which is both beautiful and intense, and actually rivals the likes of Ella Giammi m'ammo, Cortigiani and Ditta Alla Giuvine in how much it affects me every time I hear it.

    This is a truly great production. The costumes and sets are wonderfully lavish, and helped by the skillful photography and camera angles. The conducting and orchestra perform the music beautifully, and the whole production is directed with real professionalism. Staging wise, only Riccardo's death scene rings a false note, it is rather jumpy(almost the equivalent of a car stopping and starting) and drawn out for my tastes.

    The performances are exceptional. Placido Domingo is a wonderful Riccardo, excelling in both the acting and singing. Katia Ricciarelli is a good actress and possesses a beautiful voice, and she performs Amelia with real musicality. Reri Grist is a suitably angelic and lyrical Oscar as well.

    But for me the best performance comes from the amazing Piero Cappuccilli. Two years ago I didn't know much about him at all, now he is not only one of my favourite baritones but one of my favourite singers too. He is absolutely brilliant as Renato, especially in Eri Tu, which for me was the best thing about the whole production and right now(although Milnes, Merrill and Quillico do nice versions too) this is my favourite interpretation of the aria(I feel the same about his Di Provenza and Credo In Un Dio Crudel too). He has a perfect technique and a beautiful, large even voice that shows a lot of intensity, and when it comes to thrilling tops for baritones I can only think of Leonard Warren and Sherrill Milnes who come close to Cappuccilli, in the case of Milnes perhaps even more so. And as for his acting, he does more than just singing, he does something really powerful and intelligent with the role and it shows.

    All in all, a great production,that is worth seeing for Eri Tu alone(though there are many other things to love about it too) and Cappuccilli is brilliant. 9/10 Bethany Cox
  • Cast overview:
    Plácido Domingo Plácido Domingo - Gustavus
    Katia Ricciarelli Katia Ricciarelli - Amelia
    Reri Grist Reri Grist - Oscar
    Piero Cappuccilli Piero Cappuccilli - Ancharstrom
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