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Giuseppe Verdi: Un Ballo In Maschera

Giuseppe Verdi: Un Ballo In Maschera

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Vienna’s top trio of Verdians makes this Ballo one for keeps.

Initially composed for the 1857-58 Carnival Season at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, this opera about the murderer of Swedish King Gustav III was rejected by Neapolitan censors, and so were its revisions. The premiere performance of Un ballo in maschera took place only on 17 Feb 1859 at the Teatro Apollo in Rome – and also only after revisions enforced by the pontifical censors: first and foremost, the setting was transferred from Sweden to colonial North America, and not a king, but Riccardo, the governor of Boston, was to be the murder victim. Despite these changes, the melodrama was very well received by the audience, and up until today Un ballo in maschera is one of Verdi’s most popular stage works. Like most modern performances, this recording is based on the Swedish version of the opera. Its first performance at the Vienna Opera House on the Ring was given in 1870 (exactly one year after the opening), and has since enjoyed well over 500 performances in this house. The star-studded cast includes Pjotr Beczala as Gustav III, Dmitry Hvorostovky as Renato and Krassimira Stoyanova as Emilia, Nadja Krasteva, Hila Fahima, Alexandru Moisiuc, Sorin Coliban, Igor Onishchenko and Thomas Ebenstein, peforming under the baton of Jesús López Cobos. Live recording April 2016.


Orfeo’s live recording hails from 2016 at the Vienna Staatsoper and like most on disc it is based on the Swedish rather than the curious American version of the opera forced on Verdi by political censors.

Piotr Beczała is probably the finest Gustavo III of his generation, singing with just the right degree of swagger, a winning touch of irony, and plenty of romantic passion when called for. His tone is bright and Italianate, just a little pushed when required to pop out a passing top note but rock solid when given plenty of time to get up there. Krassimira Stoyanova is the Emilia, her robust yet creamy soprano is ideal, especially from meaty middle register to gleaming top. Teeming with passion, she’s deeply involved from start to finish and the long central duet with Beczała is perfectly balanced. Her desperate Act III plea to see her child is heart-breaking.

The set’s eye-catching name will likely be Dmitry Hvorostovky as Renato. The popular Russian baritone retired from the stage at the end of 2016 due to physical difficulties arising from the brain tumor that would lead to his tragically early death the following year. Here he’s on excellent form, just occasionally effortful, but singing with consummate style and firmness of tone.

The supporting cast are all splendid with Nadja Krasteva a commanding, sometimes terrifying Ulrica, and Hila Fahima’s light lyric soprano appealing as Oscar. As Horn and Warting, Alexandru Moisiuc and Sorin Coliban make a suitably gruff pair of guffawing villains.

Leading the Staatsoper Orchestra is the then 76-year-old Jesús López Cobos, a conductor with this music in his DNA. His reading is flexible with plenty of heft and you sense a rapport with the singers on stage. The tightly disciplined chorus is well caught.

The orchestral sound on disc is a just a little recessive, and there’s the odd bit of stage noise or cough, but nothing too excessive.

This is a recording that grabs the attention thanks to the dramatic involvement of all involved and one worthy to be added to that distinguished roster of the past.

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 2
    • Release Date:
    • Label:
    • UPC/Barcode: 4011790210629
    • Item Number: ORF-C210062