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19 April, 2008

Masked Ball at the Met. April 19.

Saturday 19th April 2008

Ballo in Maschera. Metropolitan Opera, New York City.

King: Salvatore Licitra
Amelia: Angela Brown
Ulrica: Stephanie Blythe
Renato: Dmitry Hvorostovsky
Oscar: Ofelia Sala
cond: Gianandrea Noseda

Dear Colleagues,

Another marvellous Ballo outing at the Met. I have seen this production several times as well as its classic video with Pavarotti, Millo and Nucci. This evening had a dream cast of Salvatore Licitra, Angela Brown, Stephanie Blythe and Dmitry Hvorostovsky. Also, the Oscar of Ofelia Sala was a fine performance.

As the king, Mr Licitra was almost eclipsed by the finesse of the baritone and lead soprano. Both baritone arias were sung with such intense conviction that at times in Eri tu Hvorostovsky seemed to move out of the aria itself, taking pauses and extensions which, while not written (and could not reasonably have been written), were perfectly attuned to the character of the piece. He also interpolated some notes from the traditional versions. The conductor seemed to take some of the main arias very slowly, to great advantage with such fine artists.

Remarkably Ms Brown did a similar thing with her Act 3 aria Morro ma prima ingrazia with some incredibly beautiful phrasing at the end. I only recall hearing this effect once before with Sherril Milnes as papa Germont also here at the Met almost 20 years ago in Di provenza (and taken to an extreme on film with Jose van Damm at the end of Cortigiani). Neither Pavarotti nor Sutherland ever did this, at least not for me. I think the singer has to get wholly within the characterisation before doing this … and obviously needs to be in complete control vocally.
Despite being almost midnight, the acclaim at the end of Ballo, was rapturous. The production is over-the-top and final ball scene unbelievably detailed, large, colourful and yet still sympathetic to the story. It even has a ‘play within’ and its own on-stage audience.

This performance was well above the usual standard seen here (or anywhere). Two members of the Australian Opera were also in the audience and they were also impressed by proceedings. We noted, however, some minor pitching errors of the tenor and some repeated timing problems with the conductor. His musicality may not be quite as refined as his colleagues yet Mr Licitra has a formidable and beautiful instrument and being able to ‘deliver’ as well as or better than many others in his field.

The day before, we were treated to an ‘open-house’ at the Met, incorporating a dress rehearsal of the Fille du Regiment (see my web site for full details). Already I have received responses about each item posted on some enthusiast opera list-servers. Some replies are not for the faint-hearted. But at least a lot of people read one’s messages and any obvious mistakes are pointed out, sometimes politely, otherwise tersely, allowing me to live and learn while also enjoying the opera. This is a form of cheap and quick ‘peer-review’. One learns to ignore the rudeness as being insecurity of people who often have nothing better to do than ‘kvetch’. Sharing ‘diary notes’ publicly is all a matter of timing … too early and they are incomplete or inaccurate … too late and nobody is interested!

Best wishes to all from Andrew Byrne ..

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