Saturday, March 19, 2016

Un Ballo in Maschera from Munich

Conductor:  Zubin Mehta
Production:  Johannes Erath

Riccardo:  Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Renato, Riccardo's best friend:  George Petean (baritone)
Amelia, wife of Renato:  Anja Harteros (soprano)
Ulrica:  Okka von der Damerau (contralto)
Oscar, Riccardo's page:  Sofia Fomina (coloratura soprano)

The Bayerische Staatsoper brought us Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera in a manner we might have expected.  The whole thing takes place in Riccardo's bedroom.  This must surely indicate that it's all a dream.  The It's all a Dream staging is certainly one of the more annoying.  My most recent one of these was Falstaff from Florence.  Interestingly, that was also conducted by Mehta.  Everything is in black and white, and the stage is a bit dark for a stream.

I watched this out of order, middle first, followed by beginning, so I noticed that the woman with long blond hair that appears mysteriously at the beginning is Ulrica the witch.  Throughout this opera a lot is going on.  The male chorus is divided into two groups:  those friendly to Riccardo and those who are conspiring to kill him.  For the first time in my experience they are both labeled and translated in the subtitles.  If you watched without text, you wouldn't guess this.

I didn't realize before this that Riccardo so dominates the action.  No excuse.  He appears in various guises:  as himself, as a dead body uncovered by Ulrica lying on his own bed, and as a ventriloquist dummy, sometimes operated by Oscar and sometimes by Riccardo himself.  Piotr sings, dummy's mouth moves.  If this means something, I didn't guess it.  I thought ventriloquists were completely out of style.  I'm surprised by what a wonderful role this is for Piotr.

Now we wake up in Renato's bedroom where he is in bed with Amelia.  Ulrica is here, too.  We're supposed to be in a field with a gallows.  Anja sings her aria.  I didn't realize Oscar actually has a bigger part.  Riccardo appears, which is fine if we're in a field but iffy when we're in Renato's bedroom.  He sleeps through the whole thing.  Renato wakes up during the love duet.  The lovers spot him, and Amelia gets back in bed and covers up.  This is rather spectacularly silly, but the plot is actually more plausible if Renato is a lot more boring than Dmitri.

I have loved the music.  Harteros may be by now my favorite current Verdi singer, though this is not the best role for her.

Ulrica is still with us at the end.

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