December 8, 2012 – San Diego, California
UN BALLO IN MASCHERA (Verdi)
Fabio Luisi; Marcelo Álvarez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Kathleen Kim,
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Stephanie Blythe
Home only hours from Manila, I spent most of December 7 readjusting to this time zone while driving around on errands. Ordinarily, in my car, I alternate listening to recorded books and Met Opera Radio on SiriusXM channel 74 – depending on whether I’ve had time to visit our local library. Yesterday, luckily, I was out of books, and thus caught the entire hour of This Month at the Met with the wonderful Margaret Juntwait.
Margaret and her guests had illuminating things to say about the three HD transmissions next in line, Un Ballo in Maschera, Aida and Les Troyens. Especially fascinating were the comments of one of the great mezzos of our time, Susan Graham – she of the glorious middle and high registers – on her love of Berlioz who (she said) was known to favor the Falcon soprano. Such a perfect and delightful term, I thought, for the soaring flight of a majestic voice over high and low terrain! Well, yes… but also, it turns out, the name of the celebrated French singing actress Marie-Cornélie Falcon who thrilled 19th century audiences with just such a voice, described by a contemporary as “a range of two octaves from b to d’’’, resonating at all points with equal vigour…silvery, with a brilliant timbre that the weight of the orchestra cannot overwhelm.”
Today also in Un Ballo in Maschera another thrilling voice type is on display: the powerful spinto soprano of Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia. Spinto, a rather inelegant-sounding term meaning “pushed or squeezed” in Italian, describes a lyric-dramatic voice which “slices through” the heavier orchestration of Verdi. Brent and I first heard Ms. Radvanovsky as a 34 year old rising star in the 2004 San Diego Opera production of Don Carlo (along with the incomparable Ferruccio Furlanetto, her frequent partner at the Met.) At intermission today, she speaks about beginning her career as a mezzo and only later having her powerful top notes “come in” – the opposite, as host Deborah Voigt observes, of how soprano voices usually mature.
On This Month at the Met, the last guest was Fabio Luisi, conductor of today’s performance. Maestro Luisi spoke of Un Ballo in Maschera as one of the most difficult Verdi operas to make coherent musically – that it begins almost as operetta or opera buffa, only to end in tragedy, as if Verdi were trying to express life in all its complexity, but not quite succeeding. Nevertheless, the 1930s-era production by David Alden with beautifully conceived sets by Paul Steinberg is riveting. And the unprecedented extra gift of the day is the entrance of HD cameras into the C-level rehearsal room, for a preview of Joyce DiDonato as the doomed Mary Queen of Scots in the Met premiere of Maria Stuarda – coming next month.