At Last, Good Verdi From Parma: Un Ballo in Boston

ItalyItaly G. Verdi. Un Ballo in Maschera: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio di Parma, Gianluigi Gelmetti (conductor), Teatro Regio di Parma. 9.10.2011 (JMI)

Production:  Teatro Regio di Parma

Direction: Pierluigi Samaritani (Original), Massimo Gasparon (Revival)
Sets and Costumes: Pierluigi Samaritani
Lighting: Andrea Borelli

Riccardo: Francesco Meli
Amelia: Kristin Lewis
Renato: Vladimir Stoyanov
Ulrica: Elisabetta Fiorillo
Oscar: Serena Gamberoni
Sam: Antonio Barbagallo
Tom: Enrico Rinaldo
Silvano: Filippo Polinelli
Judge: Cosimo Vassallo

Photo courtesy Teatro Regio di Parma, © Roberto Ricci

Among much mediocrity, the Parma Verdi Festival’s Un Ballo in Maschera was a triumph. Pierluigi Samaritani’s production premiered at this theater in 1989 and includes, as is typical for him, sets and costumes; traditional both. The production harks back to its 1859 premiere in Rome when it first became known under its now customary name: before then Un Ballo had been Gustavo III, then Una vendetta in dominò. The King of Sweden in turn became Riccardo, Earl of Warwick (via Duke of Pomerania); Ackerstrom became Count Renato, and the setting was moved first to Stettin (Una vendetta) then to the British colonial town of Boston.

available at Amazon
G.Verdi, Un Ballo in Maschera,
Solti, St.Cecilia, Nilsson, Bergonzi, Macneil, Simionato et al.

Samaritani’s appealing set, in the form of painted curtains, work outstandingly in the two scenes of Act I, and the masked ball. His typically attractive costumes please the eye, especially for Kristin Lewis’ Amelia. One problem with this production is that it requires two intervals, plus additional stops for scene changes, which makes the performance too long. In short, it’s a very attractive, old fashioned (and plain old) production which continues to please the audience.

Conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti is steeped in the Italian great opera tradition. On this occasion he convinced with energy, passion, and dramatic force, making orchestra and chorus play excellently, for their standards.

In a theater as small as the Teatro Regio, Francesco Meli could easily cope with  he can cope with Riccardo, Earl of Warwick, something that he might find difficult to pull off in a large house; the house’s remarkable acoustics were very helpful in this regard. But even if Meli is a bit light for the character, he is a remarkable singer with an attractive voice and only the high notes tend to be thin. Provided that the repertoire and the theater are appropriate, he’s a very fine tenor, indeed.

American soprano Kristin Lewis was, save for that costume, a disappointing Amelia. In the last three years I had the opportunity to see her several times and the state of her voice has me worried. Far from progressing, she only gets worse. Her biggest problem is that the top register is out of control, with notes screamed and sometimes off-pitch. Amelia further requires important low notes, which Mlle. Lewis lacks, too. At least the middle range is still intact, although that’s not quite enough for satisfying in this or many another role.

Vladimir Stoyanov was a remarkable Renato, also much aided by the characteristics of the theater. He sang his arias with taste and elegance, particularly “Eri tu” which he turned into a sort of personal triumph.

Elisabetta Fiorillo’s Ulrica had good intentions that were met harshly by a different reality. The low notes were fine, granted, but the center was unstable and her high notes are too tight. She would have been better off cast as Mrs. Quickly in Falstaff (S&H review here). Serena Gamberoni (a.k.a. Mrs. Meli) was a perfect Oscar. It’s one of the most grateful characters in the repertoire, (along with Micaela or Liu), but even so it will be difficult to see a better Oscar than hers. The secondary characters were well covered, especially by Filippo Polinelli as Silvano.

José Mª Irurzun