Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Giuseppe Verdi
  • In Italian with projected English translations
  • Approximate Running Time: 3 hours, 14 minutes

A love triangle turns deadly in one of Italian opera's greatest hits!

Conspirators want the monarch dead — and suspected adultery plays right into their murderous plans.

The king is in love with his best friend's wife — and she's in love with him. Desperate to extinguish her ardor, she turns to a sorceress for help — but too late! The secret's out and a devastated husband takes his revenge!

You'll thrill to Verdi at the peak of his musical and dramatic genius as he delves deeply into the psyches of three people who love, yet destroy, each other.

Listen for stirring choruses, melodies that run the gamut from elegance to ferocity, and a Verdian cast for the ages.

"Ideal Italianate style...Frank Lopardo brings true star power to his portrayal of the King." Denver Post

Sondra Radvanovsky: "A huge, beautiful voice...today's most exciting Verdi spinto soprano." Opera Canada

Mark Delavan: "Commanding and confident doesn't begin to say it all!" Financial Times

Stephanie Blythe: "Her Ulrica is dynamite." The New York Times

 

NEW PRODUCTION

 

Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by the NIB Foundation, Margot and Josef Lakonishok, an Anonymous Donor, and Mr. and Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes.

Production owned by the San Francisco Opera Association.

Lopardo Masked Ball ST

Gustavo
Frank Lopardo

Masked Ball - Sondra Radvanovsky

Amelia
Sondra Radvanovsky

Masked Ball - Mark Delavan

Renato
Mark Delavan

Masked Ball - Stephanie Blythe

Ulrica
Stephanie Blythe*

Masked Ball - Kathleen Kim

Oscar
Kathleen Kim

Craig Irvin

Samuel
Craig Irvin

Sam Handley

Tom
Sam Handley 

Paul La Rosa

Silvano
Paul La Rosa 

Also Featuring
René Barbera
James Kryshak

 

Masked Ball - Asher Fisch

Conductor
Asher Fisch

Philip Morehead

Conductor
Philip Morehead
December 10

 

Masked Ball - Renata Scotto

Director
Renata Scotto


Lighting Designer
Christine Binder

 


Chorus Master
Donald Nally

 

*Lyric Debut

 

 

 

A Masked Ball is full of anguish, torment, and lots of great singing

Directed by Renata Scotto, Lyric’s 2010 A Masked Ball has traditional scenery — no minimalist post-modernism here! Gustavo’s palace has all the appointments of an 18th-century Swedish castle. Opulent costumes, elegant sets, plenty of gold embellishments it’s everything you’d expect in grand opera.

On March 16, 1792, a Swedish count shot the king of Sweden during a masked ball at Stockholm’s Royal Opera House. Gustavus III survived the gunshot, but his wound became infected and he died 13 days later. 

That single event, a royal assassination, set Europe abuzz and inspired several dramatic works and even a few operas by some of the prominent and not-so-prominent composers of the 19th century. Today, none of those operas are performed, but in 1859, Giuseppe Verdi gave the world his take on Gustavus III’s assassination with Un ballo in mascheraA Masked Ball, a work that has captivated audiences since its premiere with its riveting drama and thrilling music.  

Early on, a chorus of army officers, noblemen, and delegates of the people sing to their king:

Happy dreams to our lord and protector
Restful sleep may bring peace from your woes.
All your subjects stand firmly behind you
in their love, you may safely repose.

There’s a good deal of irony to that last line, as it is love — a love triangle in fact — that is King Gustavo’s ruin. Gustavo falls for Amelia, the wife of Renato, his best friend. The sentiment is mutual and Amelia seeks the advice of the fortuneteller Ulrica for dealing with her feelings toward Gustavo. Ulrica sends Amelia in pursuit of a magic herb to cleanse her heart and alleviate her burning passion for Gustavo, but he, in disguise, follows her to a deserted field. There the two confess their love. Renato discovers them, and tragedy soon ensues.

Preceded by Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore, and La traviata (both 1853), Verdi’s A Masked Ball is the product of his fertile middle period, and it has all the composer’s trademarks: soaring melodies, rousing ensembles, tortured characters, and that hat trick of grab-you-by-the-throat ingredients — love, betrayal, and murder.

Best of all, Ballo has five great singing roles, and Lyric’s 2010-11 production has a cast to do them justice.

Lyric favorite Frank Lopardo will sing the role of Gustavo, the king, whose character Lopardo finds — well, repugnant! “I’m sure Gustavo’s love for Amelia is sincere, but it’s extremely dangerous. He’s messing around with the wife of his closest friend and confidant. So, what are the redeeming qualities of the man? This guy could care less about his friends,” says Lopardo, who first sang the role in 2002 with Pittsburgh Opera. “Either that or he has a suicide wish. He throws caution to the wind.”

Reigning Verdi soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is Amelia, the object of the royal obsession. Over the course of the opera, she notes, “Amelia grows as a person. Yes, she has thoughts about Gustavo, passion and love for him, but she decides to stay true to Renato.” 

Mark Delavan, who sang Alfio and Tonio in the 2008-09 season’s Cav/Pag double bill, will make his role debut as Renato. “I’ve sung 14 different Verdi lead roles, but for some reason, this one got by me. It will be the completion of my cycle of big Verdi roles, so, of course, I’m very excited about it.”

Stephanie Blythe will make her long-awaited Lyric debut as Ulrica. A Met regular (she’s sung there in every season since 1995), Blythe was Musical America’s “Vocalist of the Year” in 2009. The New York Times described her portrayal of Ulrica as “dynamite.”  “Ulrica may very well be all smoke and mirrors with a huge sense of drama,” says Blythe. “But her aria is a suspension in time — everyone waiting at the edge of their seat to hear what she’ll say next. What she says and how she says it are extremely important, and Verdi understands this completely.”

Kathleen Kim sings Oscar, one of Verdi’s rare trouser roles. She has recently sung two leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera: Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffmann, as well as Oscar.

Unlike Rigoletto, A Masked Ball has no clear villain, just three principals who love one another. Unfortunately, it is a forbidden love for two of them, and it exacts a steep cost. Gustavo loses his life and Amelia and Renato’s relationship and their lives are forever changed. In some ways, Gustavo is like the Duke in Rigoletto. Both are rulers with character flaws, but if opera’s protagonists had no flaws, there wouldn’t be many interesting operas!

Bad things often happen to people who flirt with danger, but bad things can also happen to someone who is completely innocent. Renato is a perfect example. “Renato is the most heroic of the characters,” says Delavan. “I think he turns on Gustavo because he genuinely feels for his wife, who is the mother of his child. He’s as cold as ice to Amelia, but you can see that his pain is real.”

In one of those amazing Verdi moments, Renato and Amelia carry us to the absolute edge of human emotion as Renato moves closer to killing Amelia, then abandons that idea and turns his wrath toward Gustavo. “Amelia’s high point in the opera is the duet with Renato,” says Radvanovsky. “She has to say what she has done — it’s the turning point for both of them. That’s when Renato decides that he’s ultimately going to scheme against Gustavo. He’s not going to kill his wife, but he is going to make her suffer for what she did — and she knows it.”

Amelia’s infidelity is one of the heart. She has done nothing physical with Gustavo but simply allowed herself to love someone outside of her marriage. “So many woman — and men — have felt love or passion for a second person while in a relationship,” says Radvanovsky. “But it’s how Amelia voices those feelings and thoughts that makes her such an interesting character.”

Immediately after the Act-Three duet with Amelia, Renato is left alone in his study to open his soul and lay bare his grief and rage. “I’ve always had a fondness for Renato because of that great monologue,” says Delavan. “This man is horribly tortured.” 

It is not she, not her tender breast that I should strike!
Another’s, truly another’s blood should cleanse this insult.
…In my deserted heart, nothing is left but hatred and death!

He then throws in with the enemies of his king, and the opera rockets to its conclusion with Renato stabbing Gustavo at a masked ball. It is in this last scene were Verdi’s music so adeptly shuttles between the superficiality of the court and the dark yearnings of the characters — a  wonderful emotional contrast that has made Ballo an audience favorite for 150 years. 

On the Record

Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these recorded performances. 

 

CDs

Bergonzi, L. Price, Merrill, Grist, Verrett; RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus, cond. Leinsdorf (RCA)

di Stefano, Callas, Gobbi, Ratti, Barbieri; La Scala, cond. Votto (EMI Callas Edition)

Pavarotti, M. Price, Bruson, Battle, Ludwig; National Philharmonic, London Opera Chorus, cond. Solti (Decca)

Bergonzi, Nilsson, MacNeil, Stahlman, Simionato; Accademia di Santa Cecilia, cond. Solti (Decca)

 

Two generations of operagoers have gotten to know Ballo through the RCA recording, which sets a remarkable standard. The warmth, tonal sheen, and emotional urgency of Leontyne Price’s Amelia, the elegance of Carlo Bergonzi’s Gustavo (the greatest achievement among his many peerless Verdi portrayals), and Robert Merrill’s handsome-voiced Renato are the stars, but figuring prominently are also Shirley Verrett’s incandescent Ulrica and Reri Grist’s adorably youthful Oscar. Erich Leinsdorf was never the most illuminating Verdi conductor, the RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra is not La Scala, but no matter — the vocal goods are here, enhanced by the principals’ considerable dramatic involvement.

There is passion aplenty from Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Tito Gobbi in La Scala’s performance from the mid-1950s, and that may compensate by a lack of vocal sumptuousness from the soprano and baritone. Eugenia Ratti’s Oscar is hard-toned and Fedora Barbieri’s Ulrica somewhat exaggerated in its effects. Sir Georg Solti’s recordings on Decca are exceedingly glamorously cast. His singers in the later performance, impressive as individuals (especially Luciano Pavarotti’s irresistible Gustavo), do not really come together as a team. The conductor had grown substantially as a Verdian since his earlier recording, in which the immaculate Bergonzi appears opposite Birgit Nilsson. The supreme Wagnerian soprano of her day is not quite a paragon of Verdi style, but her security at the top is predictably exhilarating. Sylvia Stahlman is a notably musical Oscar, Giulietta Simionato presents an undeniably authoritative Ulrica, and Cornell MacNeil, in his absolute prime, offers all the strengths of a true Verdi baritone.

 


DVDs

Alvarez, Urmana, Vratogna, Marianelli, Zaremba; Teatro Real/Madrid, cond. López-Cobos, dir. Martone (BBC Opus Arte)

Domingo, Ricciarelli, Cappuccilli, Grist, Bainbridge; Royal Opera House/Covent Garden, cond. Abbado, dir. Schenk (Kultur)

Pavarotti, Ricciarelli, Quilico, Blegen, Berini; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Patanè, dir. Moshinsky (Decca)

Pavarotti, Millo, Nucci, Blackwell, Quivar; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Levine, dir. Faggioni (DG)

Domingo, Barstow, Nucci, Jo, Quivar; Vienna Philharmonic, Concert Chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper, cond. Solti, dir. Schlesinger (TDK)

 

Currently available DVDs of this opera are very starry indeed, with the most celebrated Gustavos of the past three decades featured on two DVDs each. Each of the Domingo performances finds the tenor in admirable form. Turning to Pavarotti, the preferable Ballo is the earlier of his two Met performances. Elijah Moshinsky’s Met production from 1980 is somewhat austere but significantly more appealing than Piero Faggioni’s more “standard” version from 1991. The later Met performance, however, does offer rewards in the idiomatic Amelia of Aprile Millo, the deliciously effervescent Oscar of Harolyn Blackwell, and the Ulrica of Florence Quivar, who offers what is surely some of the most magnificent singing her role has ever received at the Met (too bad she’s saddled with such an unfortunate costume).

As directed by the late John Schlesinger, the Salzburg production, like the Met’s, is on a huge scale, but even more elegantly conceived, especially the final scene, which — in accordance with the historical event — seems to be placing the assassination in the opera house in Stockholm. Quite unexpectedly cast is Britain’s Josephine Barstow; in one of her few video appearances, she sings fervently and is a musically highly detailed, affectingly acted Amelia, opposite the typically dashing Domingo. Quivar, Sumi Jo, and Leo Nucci all contribute strongly, with the sumptuous Vienna Philharmonic under Solti.

I haven't yet assessed the most recent DVD of Ballo, which has only just been released. The leading lady is Violeta Urmana, who starred as Tosca at Lyric last season. She performs opposite Marcelo Alvarez (who sang Edgardo in Lucia at Lyric) and Marco Vratogna (Jack Rance in the 2010-11 Girl of the Golden West). The production originated at Covent Garden, where it received a mixed reception. The DVD captures it onstage at the Teatro Real/Madrid. Mario Martone’s production goes with the Boston setting, but presents the work in the 19th century, at the time of the Civil War.

Video

Backstage at Lyric #104

November 23, 2010

BlytheNo Lyric debut in recent seasons has been more eagerly anticipated than that of Stephanie Blythe. The American mezzo-soprano, a star of the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, and the Opéra National de Paris, is universally recognized by critics and audiences as one of the finest artists of our time.  In this conversation with Lyric broadcast producer Mark Travis, she discusses the two very different roles she’s performing in her first Lyric season –  Mme. Arvidson/A Masked Ball (debut) and Katisha/The Mikado

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Backstage at Lyric #103

November 22, 2010

Mark DelevanAmerican baritone Mark Delavan has demonstrated remarkable versatility at Lyric, where he has scored major successes in operas by Gluck, Verdi, Wagner, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Bolcom.  The Verdi repertoire has brought Delavan many triumphs at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as Munich, San Francisco, and Santa Fe.   He’s making his role debut this season at Lyric in his 14th Verdi role, Anckarström/A Masked Ball, which he discusses here in a lively conversation with Lyric broadcast producer Mark Travis.

 

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Backstage at Lyric #102

November 17, 2010

AsherCurrently principal guest conductor of Seattle Opera, Israeli conductor Asher Fisch Fisch appears frequently at the Vienna Staatsoper and is former music director of both the Vienna Volksoper and the Israeli  Opera.  He is returning to Lyric Opera to conduct his first performances of A Masked Ball. In a lively conversation with Lyric Opera dramaturg Roger Pines, he discusses this latest addition to his repertoire, while also recalling other career highlights.

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Backstage at Lyric #101

November 17, 2010

SondraAmerican soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is acknowledged by audiences and critics throughout North America and Europe as one of today’s few true Verdi sopranos.  She is returning to Lyric this season to sing her first Amelia,  one of the most eagerly awaited role debuts of her career.  Here she discusses the formidable challenges of the role in relation to other heroines in her repertoire.   Lyric Opera dramaturg Roger Pines poses the questions.

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Backstage at Lyric #98

November 10, 2010

LopardoScottoA Swedish monarch flirts with his trusted friend’s wife and soon enough, they’re on the road to perdition. Join A Masked Ball’s director, opera legend Renata Scotto and celebrated tenor Frank Lopardo (King Gustavo) as they explore duty, honor, and middle-period Verdi.

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Sir Andrew Davis Previews

Passion, political intrigue, witchcraft, and betrayal — here is opera at its grandest, with magnificent voices soaring at their fervent best!

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A STAR YOU SHOULD KNOW

July 19, 2010

Stephanie BlytheAmerican mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, acclaimed as one of the most thrilling singers of our time, sings Ulrica in A Masked Ball and then Katisha in The Mikado in her Lyric debut season.

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A Masked Ball

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

A Masked Ball Commentary

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.
 

A Masked Ball Commentary

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.
 

A Masked Ball Commentary

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

A Masked Ball

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

A Masked Ball Commentary

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.
 

A Masked Ball Commentary

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.
 

A Masked Ball Commentary

A Masked Ball
By Giuseppe Verdi 

Commentary by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.