Royal Opera House Heritage Series – Un Ballo in Maschera/Downes

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Verdi
Un ballo in maschera – Melodrama in three acts to a libretto by Antonio Somma after Gustave III by Eugène Scribe

Gustavo III – Jon Vickers
Count Anckarström – Ettore Bastianini
Amelia – Amy Shuard
Ulrica – Regina Resnik
Oscar – Joan Carlyle
Christiano – Victor Godfrey
Count Horn – Michael Langdon
Count Ribbing – David Kelly
A Judge – John Kollmann
Amelia’s servant – George Barker

The Covent Garden Opera Chorus

The Covent Garden Orchestra
Edward Downes

Günther Rennert – Original Director
Ande Anderson – Revival Director

Recorded 23 February 1962 at the Royal Opera House, London


Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: May 2008
CD No: ROYAL OPERA HOUSE
HERITAGE SERIES ROHS009 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 2 minutes

 

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“Un ballo in maschera” (A Masked Ball) can be a hard piece to pull off in the theatre mixing as it does a serious plot involving a love triangle together with political intrigue, albeit with some rather cardboard villains, sorcery and, most curious of all, that semi-comic ‘laughing chorus’ in Act Two. So director and conductor have to decide where to aim. That is before one decides which version (the one set in Boston or the one in Sweden) should be opted for.

In this live recording of a 1962 performance, the Swedish setting was used. For the most part this is a rather darker view of the work than many – and that is welcome. Edward Downes (born in 1924 and knighted in 1991) and the orchestra captured well the brooding atmosphere that is present in much of the score, for example at the start of the second scene of the first act where we first meet the fortune-teller Ulrica, and at the start of the second act which has real urgency and tension.

Italianate – every word audible and sung with relish. His impassioned ‘Eri tu’ is a highlight in the first scene of Act Three.

Smaller roles are generally adequately sung but the microphones do not flatter the Chorus; some of the singing, particularly of the ladies, is rather woolly and inexact. Occasionally the recording reveals occasional lapses of intonation on the part of all the singers (Bastianini is affected the most). It may be more noticeable in the vocal parts owing to their forward placing in the overall balance, and is perhaps due to wear or stretch on the tapes used for this release. There are also occasional fadeouts – the final minute or so of the first scene of Act Three is missing altogether and there is also the odd cough emanating from somewhere very close to the microphones. Those used to listening to live recordings will not find this a problem – and they will not want to miss this energetic performance.

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