Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera has fared noticeably well on disc over the years with starry names like Bergonzi, Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras gracing the tenor role and Price (Leontyne) and Caballé as standout Amelias. Merrill, Cappuccilli and Wixell have proved magnificent as Renato, and that’s without even mentioning the dream team of Di Stefano, Callas and Bastianini. So, do you need a new one? When the vocal line-up is as good as it is here, why not?
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.
Listen on Apple Music.
Composer: Guiseppe Verdi
Work: Un Ballo in Maschera
Performers: Piotr Beczała, Krassimira Stoyanova, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Wiener Staatsoper/Jesús López Cobos
Label: Orfeo C210062 (2CD)