Review: The Met performs ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’
Submitted to Prospector
Sierra Cinemas presents The Met Opera Live in HD in partnership with Music in the Mountains. Saturday’s performance will be “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Giuseppe Verdi.
Artists and censors: not just about the self-righteous determining of what you may or may not read at the local library nor governments seeking to obscure transparency for “our own good.” Composers of opera, nearly from the beginning of the genre, have had to tread the thorny path of official censorship, either from the church or the state. In 1857, Giuseppe Verdi set out to make an opera based on an actual historical event: the assassination of King Gustavus III of Sweden. The subject had already been dealt with operatically some decades before, and the crime was all but forgotten. However, the Neapolitan authorities would in no way allow the murder of a king on the stage: The populace might get ideas, unrest was in the air, and the revolutions of 1848 were till fresh in the memory. Nearly two full years of wrangling about changes to the libretto delayed the work’s premiere. Finally, it was deemed that if the scene were set far away, say in the young United States, and the victim “Riccardo, Count of Warwick and Governor of Boston,” then who cares?
This historical silliness aside, “A Masked Ball” is one of Verdi’s best works, filled with passion, mystery and genuine drama. The highlight, for me, is the fantastic character of Ulrica, the fortune teller. About to be banished, Ulrica prophesies the death of the disguised Riccardo, who laughs it off, withdrawing her banishment on the grounds that what she does is harmless nonsense. The music that introduces her in her lair is rich, dark, chilling. Ulrica is a contralto role, and the lower register simmers with mystery and occult knowledge. She’s just terrific and unlike anything else you’re likely to hear this season.
Ultimately, despite the work being filled with dark foreboding, this is a story of love and forgiveness. The Act 2 love duet of Riccardo and Amelia is as intensely passionate as anything Verdi composed. But unfortunately, Amelia is married to Renato, “a Creole” in service to Riccardo. You can probably guess the rest.
John Deaderick is a local theatre instructor, director, actor, and the author of “Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis,” available at Amazon.com.
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