Verdi - Un Ballo in Maschera

ONP Bastille, Tuesday April 21 2009

Conductor: Renato Palumbo. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Riccardo: Ramon Vargas. Renato: Ludovic Tézier. Amelia: Deborah Voigt. Ulrica: Elena Manistina. Oscar: Anna Christy. Silvano: Etienne Dupuis. Sam: Michail Schelomianski. Tom: Scott Wilde. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

This revival was not in my subscription this season, and as Un Ballo is not one of my favourites (I can do without the whole of act 1, and if Riccardo gets knifed at the end, Oscar should get shot at the outset) and this is not much of a production (described by me here), I wouldn’t normally have bothered to get tickets. But Deborah Voigt is a singer I’ve admired since she sang a gobsmacking Chrysothemis in Paris’s awful former “blue-and-red” production of Elektra and the only one I’ve deliberately travelled far to hear: London for Die Frau, Vienna for Tristan, New York for Aida and Tosca (in memorably ghastly Met productions), not counting her Senta, Lady Macbeth, whatever other roles I’ve forgotten and concerts at home in Paris. So I found myself back at the Bastille on Tuesday evening wondering how she was getting along these days.

The answer, on Tuesday evening, was “not too well.” I hope this was just an off night rather than a sign of terminal decline. Voigt’s Amelia brought to mind a heavy truck negotiating a tricky mountain pass involving steep gradients and numerous hairpin bends. You could hear the revving up, the spit of the brakes, the crunching of gears and jolting stops and starts as she prepared to attack each passage - and sometimes she stalled. Though not a catastrophe, the performance was laboured and uneven. The volume and diction are still there. The perfect intonation and laser-like top notes are not: she preferred, in the act 2 duet, to stay a fifth below the (apparently: I consulted a well-known opera oracle to check) written C, leaving the top to her tenor partner, and opted out of the upper part of the last chorus, leaving that to Oscar. The silvery sheen went some time back: her timbre is now perilously close to sour at the top, with still the familiar dark undertone, but a hollowing-out in between. And to my surprise, her phrasing sounded short-winded. She was most comfortable in slow passages in the middle range: “Morro ma prima in grazia” was the best part of her evening.

So the star of the show was Tézier. He will presumably never acquire more presence, but he scowls well and was in magnificent voice. Vargas is good enough, but just when you want a thrill from clarion high notes, his voice retreats into the top of his skull, leaving him no louder than Anna Christy’s lightweight Oscar.

I said very recently of Currentzis’s conducting of Macbeth that “This was Verdi exactly as I like him.” Renato Palumbo’s conducting of Un Ballo was Verdi exactly as I don’t: bland and soupy and ponderous and at times so slow the poor singers ran ahead.

Perhaps I’ve made this sound like an awful evening. It wasn’t. By today’s Verdi standards it was fair. But not what I’d hoped for, at all.

Maestro Wenarto sings "Ecco l'orrido campo".


  1. Jeffrey SarverApril 26, 2009

    Your reviews from Paris and Brussels are the most entertaining, succinct and sane observations of opera performances I can find anywhere on the web. Thank you!

    Yes, shoot Oscar! I've always hated Ballo simply because of that most annoying character. As for Deborah Voigt, you reflect precisely my fears for her.
    She was so splendid in her silvery early Strauss/Verdi years, then she tackled Isolde and it all went down the loo alarmingly fast. The by-pass surgery finished the voice off. What we are witnessing now is the sad decline, doggedly displayed before the world by a generous artist who made a couple of big and fatal career mistakes and can't believe it is ending so soon. Rather similar to the sad fate of Cheryl Studer.

    But, I may be wrong (I HOPE I'm wrong) and Voigt can pull it all out of the fire somehow.

  2. I don't usually reply to comments, to avoid entering into pointless arguments, but must thank you for your kind comment. It intrigues me that people find their way here: I've no idea how.


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