Review: David Alden gives Met new vision of Verdi
In this Nov. 5, 2012, photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, a scene from Verdi's “A Masked Ball” is performed during a dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP Photo/Ken Howard)
NEW YORK (AP) — Part film noir, part surrealistic nightmare, David Alden's new production of Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" is dominated by a single image — a painting of Icarus plunging toward his death after flying too close to the sun and melting his waxen wings.
It's an image that asks the viewer to compare the opera's main character, King Gustavo III of Sweden, to the mythological hero, both undone by pride and reckless daring. And it challenges us to think past the improbable melodrama of jealousy, betrayal and revenge that forms the surface of one of Verdi's most brilliant and beloved operas.
That's a challenge the Metropolitan Opera audience at Thursday night's premiere was only partly ready to accept. When the director and his team came out to take their curtain calls, they were greeted with a mixture of bravos and boos, about in equal measure.
There were nothing but cheers, however, for the unusually well-balanced group of singers who filled the five leading roles. For Sondra Radvanovsky in the role of Amelia, the night was a special triumph, her powerful, penetrating voice filling the house with refulgent sound. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez, animated and ardent as Gustavo, sang with rich, smooth tone and exciting high notes — though he attacked some of them overemphatically. As his friend and councillor Anckarstroem, the elegant baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky made his great aria "Eri tu" a high point of the evening. Soprano Kathleen Kim, bedecked with goatee and mustache, sparkled in the "trousers" role of the king's page, Oscar, though she got swallowed up in the ensembles. And mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick brought her usual imposing tones at either end of her vast range to the role of the fortuneteller Ulrica. The chorus sang with gusto.
In this Nov. 5, 2012, photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, Verdi's “A Masked Ball” is performed by, from left, Marcelo Álvarez as Gustavo III, Kathleen Kim as Oscar, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count Anckarström during a dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP Photo/Ken Howard)
Fabio Luisi, the Met's principal conductor, led a performance that was precise and well-paced, although at times a greater sense of urgency would have been welcome.
In Alden's vision, Gustavo both defies death and courts it through his reckless pursuit of Amelia, who is married to Anckarstroem. The king sees all too clearly what's coming: When toward the end of the opera, Oscar brings him a note warning of a plot against his life, he knows the contents before he reads it.
This Gustavo is quite a showman as well — joining Oscar in an inspired soft-shoe routine with top hat and cane at the end of the opening scene. In the next scene, he goes disguised as a sailor to investigate Ulrica, and when she foretells his death, he laughs at the prophecy in an aria that's staged as a display of bravado designed to entertain the crowd.