Some encomiasts claim that soprano Maria Callas did as
much for Italian opera as Toscanini or Verdi. Musicologist Philip Gossett
arguably has done as much for Italian opera as any of those giants.
Gossett is general editor of the monumental critical editions of the works
of Verdi and Rossini. New Yorkers have been blessed in recent years to hear
several scores restored to pristine splendor under his stewardship, including
Verdi's "Nabucco" and Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri" at the Met and Rossini's
"Il viaggio a Reims" at City Opera.
Collegiate Chorale's concert performance of Verdi's 1859 masterpiece, "Un
ballo in maschera," marked the world premiere of a new edition by Gossett and
Ilaria Narici that reinstates the opera's original setting.
A tale of the adulterous passion and assassination of Sweden's King Gustav
III, "Ballo" raised the hackles of censors in revolutionary Italy, who changed
its locale to Puritan-era Boston. The restored libretto packs a political and
erotic charge that the traditional bowdlerized text lacks.
"Ballo" commingles mirth and tears in a way unique among Verdi's works.
Laughter, carefree or sardonic, threads its way through moments of anguish,
while joy is always muted by the ache of mortality.
Tenor Salvatore Licitra showed limited awareness of these subtleties. At
his best, would-be superstar Licitra offered a rich, manly sound, blending
warmth and brilliance in near-ideal balance. He tends to belt, though, with
scant feel for the rubato (rhythmic give-and-take) and finesse that are key to
Verdi's music. His Gustavo had more of the bumpkin than the sophisticate about
Soprano Mich�le Crider, who has had an inconsistent Met career, made a case
for herself Wednesday as a world-class Verdian. As Gustavo's beloved Amelia,
Crider turned in a graceful "Consentimi, Signor!" and soft singing of exquisite
sensitivity in her Act II scene. The loud, thick tone that baritone Dmitri
Hvorostovsky has cultivated has dimmed the once incomparable luster of his
voice, but his still-glamorous sound made for a stirring if generic Ankastrom,
Amelia's (nearly) cuckolded husband.
In the brief but vital role of the clairvoyant Ulrica, contralto Ewa Podles
entered like a woman possessed, raving in some previously unknown Italo-Slavic
tongue. Her blistering high notes, inky chest tones and hollow,
wind-into-a-bottle middle voice struck listeners dumb with awe, then drove them
to delirium. It wasn't pretty, but it was unquestionably the stuff of
gut-wrenching art. Podles' inspired performance left one wondering yet again
why this riveting artist has been so long absent from the Met.
Oscar, Gustavo's confidant, is often played as a frantic, mincing fop, but
soprano Harolyn Blackwell brought a wistful earnestness to the role that critic
Gabriele Baldini has identified with "the laughter, warm embrace and mercy"
that live on after the murdered king.
Robert Bass led the Orchestra of St. Luke's in a plodding performance that
failed to capture the sweep and autumnal glow of this wondrous score. The
Collegiate Chorale's keen, elegant expressions of resentment, wonder and grief
punctuated Verdi's fierce and great-hearted drama to marvelous effect.
UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Somma. With
Mich�le Crider, Harolyn Blackwell, Ewa Podles, Salvatore Licitra, Dmitri
Hvorostovsky. Performed by Collegiate Chorale and the Orchestra of St. Luke's,
conducted by Robert Bass. Attended Wednesday at Carnegie Hall. For information
on upcoming Collegiate Chorale concerts, call 917-322-2140 or visit