Un Ballo in Maschera - Saving the Best for Last

I'm looking over all my Met programs this season and I attended Macbeth (twice), Le Nozze di Figaro, La Boheme (three times!!!), Traviata (twice), Death of Klinghoffer, Aida, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Les Contes d'Hoffman, Iolanta/Bluebeard, CarmenLa Donna del Lago, as well as the Grand Finals of the Met National Council Auditions and a recital by Rene Pape. You might notice something though: all of those performances happened before March. That was when a real job (and a 5:00 wakeup time) kicked in. But today was the last day of the season and I was determined to see Piotr Beczala sing Un Ballo in Maschera.

In a way I'm glad I skipped so many performances because: 1. the season was incredibly frontloaded, and 2. I could end the season on a total high. Tonight's performance was saving the best for last. It wasn't perfect, mind you. For one, I had a hard time warming up to David Alden's chilly, artificial production. I thought the Icarus symbolism was heavy-handed and the gray paneled set tended to distance the audience from a story that already has a certain built-in cynicism and detachment.

But it was the singers who turned this performance from a tired revival to a magnificent way to end the season. At the hear of this performance was the Gustav of Piotr Beczala. His voice did not have the volume and horsepower of Sondra Radvanovsky (Amelia) but he didn't try to force or push. His lyric tenor is so incredibly well-preserved, still sweet and ingratiating after all these years. Piotr isn't a natural tragedian. His personality is too sunny and boyish. But his Gustavo was effective because you could sense the merriment of Gustav's court and the king's charm and mischievous nature. Beczala's last act aria "Ma se m'è forza perderti" was affecting because he exuded such warmth that you think "Who would want to kill this guy?"

Sondra Radvanovsky was Amelia. And she was ... well, she was LOUD. Her voice really shakes the rafters, and it has an enormous range. Her timbre is an acquired taste -- you either love it or you don't, and I (mostly) don't, but I think Amelia is her best role. Her acting in the role was not all that detailed, but it was believable and convincing. "Morrò, ma prima di grazia" was affectingly sung. The second act love duet ("Teco il sto") with Gustavo was spine-tingling simply as she released tsunamis of sound during the climactic moments. I do wish she had pulled back her voice slightly for the final high C as her voice ended up drowning not just Piotr, but the entire orchestra. I always admire Sondra more than I actually enjoy her singing, but I have to admit that in Ballo there was a lot to admire.

I liked Alexey Markov as Renato. His voice is a bit rough around the edges, but impressive for its volume and projection. He sort of has the Russian marble-mouth (but then again, so does Sondra, and she's not Russian). His Renato was a bit of a brute, but "Eri tu" was affectingly sung. One of the few effective moments of Alden's staging was when you saw Renato's home and the sole decoration was a large portrait of King Gustav. Dolora Zajick made the most out of her brief but important role of Ulrica. She's past her sixth decade, but her voice can still shake the walls, especially in the most extreme parts of the range (top and bottom notes). The middle has lost quite a bit of body and color but ... she's 63, folks. Only Heidi Stober sounded weak as Oscar. She had troubles projecting her voice except in the uppermost part of her voice.

James Levine managed to pull together a cohesive, exciting performance. Earlier in the season I heard performances from him that were alternately plodding and uncoordinated. Not tonight. He got great work from the Met orchestra.

Outside at the stage door I met Piotr Beczala, who is exactly as cute and friendly as you'd expect him to be. Also met Jamie Barton, who was just strolling over to say "hi" to her friends in the performance, like any other person. 

And briefly, some season highs:

1. Strangely, the Verdi performances I attended. They always say you can't cast Verdi anymore. The Met fielded excellent Violettas for their revival of La Traviata -- Marina Rebeka's voice silvery and bell-like, Sonya Yoncheva's plush and sexy, and a great Germont in Quinn Kelsey. Anna Netrebko made for a thrilling, seat-of-your-pants Macbeth. And of course, last night's Ballo featured great singing from just about everyone.

2. Michael Fabiano had a real "star is born" in her last minute Boheme substitution. I'm sorry I missed his last minute Lucia substitution.

3. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. One of the most powerful if disturbing evenings I've ever spent in a theater. 

4. The Bluebeard was chilling, creepy, and well-directed. (Iolanta was marred by a ho-hum staging and an unusually shrill-voiced Anna Netrebko). 

5. Death of Klinghoffer got the performance it deserved. Too bad it was not preserved on either Sirius or HD.

6. Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna proved that 5 years later, they're still capable of giving an absolutely sizzling Carmen.

7. Olga Borodina's one-woman show in Aida. The side eye and bitch face she gave to her vocally opulent but dramatically bovine Aida (Lyudmila Monastyrska) was worth the price of the ticket alone.

8. The four hour Boheme where I ended up meeting the nicest cast I've ever met at the stage door. 

I'm sure I'm missing something but oh well! See you in September!


  1. Ughh I didnt find Piotr all that friendly when he was in San Diego. He was sort of pompous. HIs wife is super nice and friendly and always looks tip top. Krassimira Stoyanova was amazing and very funny as well.

    1. Well singers have good days and bad days but Piotr was definitely very sweet to the fans last night. He talked to a somewhat troubled woman for 10 minutes, a woman who's been banned from entering the Met. But he was sweetly signing her programs (from like 50 years ago that weren't of him singing) and he seemed really genuinely sweet.

    2. He who pleased everyone died before he was born...

      PS. It seems Anonymous knows his wife very well;)

    3. Piotr's wife resembles Netrebko a lot. The look like sisters in some photos

    4. Here's a picture of his wife:



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