Un Ballo in Maschera is not one of my favourite Verdis, mainly because of the implausible story, but the music has so much beauty and craft as with all Verdi's operas there is much to admire. As there is with this 2008 Teatro Real production. It doesn't surpass the 1967 Bergonzi/Stella/Zanassi production as the best Ballo I've seen, and I also think the 2001, 1975, 1980 and 1991 productions are superior, however it is a still thoroughly enjoyable production.
In regard to the production values, I liked the refined costumes. Perhaps there wasn't much need of the change to the pre-Civil war period, but unlike other updatings this doesn't distract really. The settings were a little too bare in Act 1 especially, but the Act 2 gallows set is appropriately desolate which creates a sense of foreboding, and I found the staging with the mirror in Act 3 Scene 2 really remarkably done.
Musically, it is even better. The orchestral playing is vigorous for Riccardo's Di' Tu Se Fedele yet also gives the right amount of pathos needed for Renato's Eri Tu(which for me has always been the best aria from the opera). Jesus Lopez-Cobos I have always looked forward to, and he does bring the right intensity and emotional impact for key scenes such as in the Act 2 duet and Amelia's unmasking. The chorus blend well.
The singing of Marcelo Alvarez is first-rate, with ringing and beautiful tone. And dramatically in the role of Riccardo he also gives one of his more involved performances(more so than Duke of Mantua), with a Di'Tu Se Fidele that is full of vigour and ping and a Ma Se Me Forza Perderti that is both melancholic and reflective. His uttering of Si, Rivederti, Amelia comes across as genuine, almost goose-bump inducing.
Violeta Urmana is just as impressive as Amelia, vocally powerful and the most pure I've ever heard her and dramatically moving from her sense of terror to her ecstatic declarations of love. She is at her best in Morro, Ma Prima In Grazia and the Act 2 duet, the latter of which is alongside Act 3 Scene 2 the best scenes of the production.
Of the supporting roles, Alessandra Marianelli's Oscar fares best. Essentially angelic and lyrical, she is also successful in conveying the character's playfulness and making her colouratura dance without it becoming shrill.
Marco Vratogna as Renato is not as good however. While he does get better later on with a very intense and anguished Eri Tu and he is not too stoic either, he is on rather gravelly vocal form for much of the first two acts.
Elena Zaremba fares a little better, her Ulrica is chilling and her low register does generate some thrills. Where she is sadly not so impressive is in her top register, which does sound rather squally for my liking.
All in all, very good production though I do think there are better ones elsewhere. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
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