Cher Public

Swedish frisson

“Last week’s freak nor’easter set the tone for Thursday’s chilly new production of Un Ballo in Maschera at the Met…. Sadly, [David Alden‘s] Ballo feels more like a pitch meeting than a production. There’s an avalanche of ideas, but none of them are developed.” [New York Post]

  • Krunoslav

    Great lede!

  • Does the king actualy “seduce” Amelia when the most that happened was:

    -- “Amelia I love you”

    -- “Please don’t say that. I am married to your best friend.”

    -- “But I love you and you oughta know. don’t you love me a little?”

    -- “Please don’t push me, I’m fragile and my shoes are killing me”

    -- “Just admit it once”

    -- “OK, I love you. There I said it, what does that change? My shoes are killing me and now I feel guilty”

    -- “Damn, someone’s coming. You gotta go”

    • JJ

      Well, I think a case could be made that getting her to day “t’amo” amounts to a seduction morally. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus says, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” By that standard, Amelia has sinned and therefore she has been led astray by Gustavo. The basis of seduction is “leading astray,” after all.

      There is of course also the matter of getting everything into around 400 words…

      • Quanto Painy Fakor


      • I get that. But how many of our modern audiences get the biblical understanding of seduction vs the modern understanding of jealousy?

        I get the 400 word constriction; which is why I find it baffling that the online edition does not publish longer articles since the medium allows for more space without the constriction of a page.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Any modern audience member can see how much pressure he puts her under to say it. It’s dreadful behaviour on his part, really.

          • armerjacquino

            And then, when she does, ‘Let any trace of friendship in my heart be destroyed’. Nice guy.

      • armerjacquino

        Now I want to see a regie production with Amelia as Jimmy Carter.

        • phoenix
          • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

            phoenix, what cheering news for the beleaguered BBC: Stateside, they assume Auntie Beeb produced Downton Abbey.

            armerj, I feverishly await a Ballo in which Gustavo’s headless body is indeed found in a topless bar. Bieito, no doubt.

      • Ilka Saro

        Not fair! Amelia is already seduced before the opera begins, at least emotionally. The very thing words out of her mouth are “segreta acerba”, referring to her painful struggle to resist her own passions. The next thing you know, she’s on the orrido campo, facing monstrous demons and seeking a magical cure for her love, even at the cost of a completely joyless future. Romantic poesy aside, it sounds to me like it wouldn’t take me persuasion on Ricardo’s/Gustavo’s part to get her to cop to her real feelings. “C’mon baby, you know you want it.”

        • Ilka Saro

          oh god i need an editor for the simplest posts: the very FIRST thing out of her mouth…
          wouldn’t take MUCH persuasion…

  • Buster

    Oh boy. We get a David Alden Meistersinger later this season, hopefully that will be more together.

  • MontyNostry

    JJ’s reviews should be required reading for all opera critics and would-be opera critics. The show is precisely and expertly evoked, clear conclusions are drawn and it makes entertaining reading too. Bravo!

  • OK, the photo accompanying this review is the second one I’ve seen in which Hvorovstovsky is thrusting his crotch in the direction of Alvarez’s face (the other one being the original promo shot). Or am I reading too much into it? ;)

    Great review as always.

    • TRosado

      I thought the same thing. I found the released publicity photos with Alvarez and Hvorovstovsky to have homoerotic undertones. Which is fine by me… :-)

      • It’s also probably more historically “correct” than Verdi intended. The real Gustavo was gay.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    What a strangely positive review couched in negative terms and led into negatively. I wonder if this is what people object to about criticism? Chilly doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Lots of people like cold weather.

    I’m not arguing that this is an unfair review. I just wonder if the critic’s pose in general tends to be negative, and if that then falls under the concept of “bad for the opera,” to borrow a phrase, instead of “good for the opera.” If one was not an opera fan, would one get the sense reading this that nothing is ever good enough at the opera lately, so why aspire to seeing one at all? Of course, the critic’s purpose in writing a review is not necessarily to push opera to the hoi polloi. It just struck me what a mixed bag of negatives and positives reviews are, and this one especially.

    • phoenix

      I noticed it too. I think his reviews can be quite often be lucid, very much to the point for those who are interested -- and then other times I feel he is just trying to satisfy the fans and/or the powers that be. Perhaps the author was forced to cut quite a bit out of his original construct due to the newspaper’s requirement for a limited number of words -- and this created some unfinished business here & there, like an opera unjudiciously cut & edited in performance. There is also the quandary of newspaper criticism with it’s tendency for negative criticism to be couched in positive jargon -- as well as vice-versa.
      -- How many people pay any attention to these reviews except those who are avid fans or involved in the ‘business’? What do you think?

      • I think JJ’s review was pretty clear: he thought the singing was stellar and the production had some good ideas that ultimately didn’t make for a coherent, persuasive vision of the opera.

    • JJ

      This is an interesting question and I think it has something to do with the way “overnight” reviews are structured, or, more to the point, how daily newspapers generally do arts criticism. For better or for worse, daily newspapers are driven by the news angle: that is, what’s different and important about this story that makes it worthy of coverage? Sometimes in an opera review that angle is rather obvious: a major debut or role debut, a house premiere, a really blazing triumph or thudding failure of the sort that comes along only a couple times a season.

      These types of reviews are fairly easy to write because you just have to be accurate and honest; essentially the event dictates the “different and important” element.

      The “story” for this review is pretty obviously David Alden’s production, and I think just about everybody led with that element. The problem is that, in my opinion, that production was a near-miss, and explaining the subtlety of that is not the sort of task that is most easily done in under 400 words.

      A mixed review is tricky because if you go a little too far one way it sounds grudging or a little too far the other and it sounds like special pleading. There comes a time when you feel like every single sentence includes a “but” or an “although” or a “still” or an “on the other hand” and when you read the whole thing together it just sounds wishy-washy.

      What made this Alden production something of a challenge to review is that, unusually for the Met, it does have a firm intellectual basis, or, to put it more bluntly, unlike the Shers and Lepages of this world, David Alden is actually qualified to be putting an opera on the Met stage. He has both the skill and the imagination for this task.

      And yet, I didn’t think this Ballo clicked and it was hard to put a finger on exactly what was wrong. It’s not like, say, the recent Elisir, where you can dismiss the direction with “he doesn’t have a clue what this opera is about.” Alden very obviously understood the opera and had a clear idea of what aspects of the work he wanted to highlight in the production. Everything in the production had a more or less valid intellectual basis. But where I thought it missed the mark was in bridging the gap from thinking to feeling, from the rational to the intuitive. A great production does that: you don’t really get a chance to think about what you’re seeing because you’re too busy feeling.

      I guess you could draw a parallel with dance. The choreographer has to work everything out in terms of combinations of steps, and those combinations have to make logical sense on a number of different levels. But ideally in performance, the audience doesn’t see steps or combinations; we just see “dancing.” All the complexity and logic and counting are supposed to work in the background.

      Now, a reviewer has to approach the work a little differently, because a purely intuitive review is not of much value (“She didn’t dance Giselle, she was Giselle!”) So the reviewer has to be engaged on two levels at the same time, appreciating and feeling the “intuitive” side, meanwhile keeping an eye out for how all the little strings are being pulled.

      For this Ballo I think I got a pretty clear idea of how the strings were pulled but I missed the broad emotional resonance. My judgment (possibly wrong) is that the lack of such resonance could be a function of Alden’s trying to express too many different and contrasting aspects of the work or at least not being quite able to get everything in the right proportion. So there were some brilliant bits and some dull stretches that felt like a build-up for an event that never happened.

      But it should be emphasized that if great opera direction can be thought of as a 10 step process, Alden got to about step 8 whereas most of the doofuses who direct at the Met bottom out around 4 or 5. Honestly I wanted to be swept away by this production, and I wasn’t. Disappointment is not the easiest thing to write.

      • louannd


  • phoenix

    Using the ‘cold’ metaphor is [I assume] a reference to the ‘impersonal’ nature of the production, it’s lack of the wistful nostalgia that so many operafans wallow in.
    -- Many of us reading the review only heard it on Sirius -- audio relays rarely reflect the total impression of a performance live.

  • grimoaldo

    My fav bit of this review:
    “Also in top form was Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia, the guilty wife.

    She deployed her big, smoky soprano sensitively, winning the night’s biggest ovation for “Morró, ma prima in grazia,”

    A good review of Radvan from JJ!
    Is this a first?
    Kudos to him for not going in to the show thinking “Radvan, don’t like her, she always sings flat, not an interesting artist” etc and reporting that she rocked the audience (as she always does in my experience).

    • armerjacquino

      I really want to hear her live, now. I love her voice and commitment, and as we’ve discussed before I think her issues with pitch can take people in different ways at different times. Some of her recordings I sometimes find thrilling and then I can listen to the same piece again and find the pitch distracting beyond belief.

      She obviously sounded great in the house the other night, because everyone’s said so. I listened to Act II and was disappointed that to me she appeared flat more or less throughout, apart from that gleaming top.

      • MontyNostry

        armer, as I’m sure I’be said on here before, Radvanovsky was very exciting as Lina in Stiffelio at the ROH back in 2007, even if she didn’t ‘own’ some of the phrases enough. I forgave any shortcomings for the huge top C at the end! I regretted not seeing her Leonora a couple of seasons later. I had been put off by the idea of Alagna and Hvorostovsky in roles that are too big for them …

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          I saw both the Stiffelio and the Trov. The pitch problems were less apparent live, although not absent, but the problematic vibrato that causes them was still very audible and for me off putting. What really bothered me more than any of that however was just how curiously unmusical and boring all her phrasing was. There were a lot of fancy dynamics but none of it felt organic or seemed to have any meaning that derived from the text, the character or the context.

          I would really like to like Radvanovsky because the voice itself is clearly a major one and her top 3 notes are so thrilling, but I just can’t get along with her singing.

          • MontyNostry

            I know where you are coming from on the phrasing … I am basically a fan of hers, but you pick up on the issue of her not ‘owning’ the phrase.

          • phoenix

            Kurwenal, you have put into such eloquent terms exactly the way I, too, feel about La Rad. Listened to her Ernani from Chicago about 5 times trying to solve the mystery. However, her flaws are even more noticeable in Puccini than in Verdi. But I have never seen her live in the House, like you have -- she definitely does not record well -- the bright digital audio processing only seems to exacerbate the tonal harshness issue.
            -- But I must remember that opera 1st and foremost is a living performance artform and apparently La Rad gives a good show onstage -- regardless of how vinegary her tone sounds to me.

          • Clita del Toro

            Cocky, I agree with you about Rad’s phrasing--you hit the nail on the head. The off pitch stuff and the timbre of her voice are not the biggest problem for me.
            Her Leonora in person (LOC) was not any better (or worse) than her Met broadcasts. I also didn’t find her a compelling stage presence. After all, the radio doesn’t change the phasing/singing, even if it may exaggerate or distort certain aspects of her voice.

            I am glad that many people like her Amelia, and I will listen again on Thursday. As I have said before, I have always rooted for Rad, but I don’t know how long I can do that. And I don’t know what to think about her singing Norma????

          • I like Rad’s phrasing when she sings a mournful, legato melody. She sings with great sensitivity in such music. However, when required to sing fast, upbeat music, there isn’t any rhythmic drive. That’s where I find her phrasing wanting.

          • aulus agerius

            That’s how I feel about Yummy Yonas too, especially the ‘dynamics’ part. I listened to his Romantic Arias album again last night and it was just the same thing song after song: loud, soft, louder, soft, Very Loud, very soft -- then on to the next. The louds are thrilling at first; the softs, I guess he thinks it’s mezza voce, are kind of squeezed and constricted sounding to me.

          • Vergin Vezzosa

            I saw Ballo in the theater last night and can verify that IMHO La Rad was terrific. Before this, I had liked her a lot in Vespri, Ernani, Trovatore and L. Borgia — her Amelia continued the very positive trend. She was intensely committed both vocally and dramatically and it seemed like her big voice has become HUGE, probably enhanced by the box concept and hard surfaces of the production. While there are some passages in Amelia’s music which to my taste really require a voice with more purity of tone than Rad’s, she nonetheless was very effective, especially when powering through some of the big scenes. She got the biggest hand at the end, although the biggest applause during the performance was for “Eri tu”.

            Frankly the revelation of the night was Alvarez. While weak in the lowest range and occasionally shouting out a high note, he surprised the shit out of me by how well he sang over all. While others have been smoother and more natually suited to the role, Alvarez was not unrefined or inelegant and supplied a lot of power and intensity to the part. He also obviously totally bought into Alden’s concept and direction and should get both a great big gold star for being an excellent drama student and a blue ribbon for being most improved.

            Thoroughly agree with JJ’s comments about the Alden production with the following redundant thought. For me, despite a few things that seemed a little forced or overdone, the production worked very well until the final ball scene. Once at the ball, nothing came together, the action slowed to a glacial pace and the drama that had been building just fizzled.

            BTW, the production is very handsome and well designed and the ball scene pretty stunning visually, angels of death and all. How pleasant to be finally commenting on a new Met production of a standard opera that has a lot to offer rather than on another of the horrid shows from the “doofuses”.

          • marshiemarkII

            Beata Vergine, I said below that I only had a single data point with la Rad, the 2009 Trovatore, but your post refreshed my memory and had also seen her in the Vespri back when 2004 or 2005? at the Met, and she had also impressed then, I can’t hear what people describe as vinegary, the voice is very smooth and beautiful and the vibrato gives it a very sui generis shimmering halo that I most liked, but in the Vespri she tired at the end visibly. In the Trovatore the voice was already HUGE, in the parterre level voices don’t always carry well, but she did! so the voice was already huge in 2009!

          • The earliest recording of hers I have is an in-house recording of a Met Boheme from 2000 when she sang Musetta opposite Gallardo-Tomas and Giordani. It’s the biggest “Quando me voh” that I’ve ever heard! :)

      • peter

        My experience of Rad live is very different than on a broadcast. The mics are just not kind to that voice. They magnify all of her shortcomings. Live, it’s big and vibrant and thrilling, at least in the Trovatore I heard.

        • grimoaldo

          Yes I agree peter, I always enjoy my favourite singers more live than I do on recordings or broadcasts, and Radvan especially so, not just the voice either, there is something about her stage presence and commitment that creates a real buzz when you are there experiencing it live.

        • Agreed, Peter.

          I’m thrilled for La Rad’s success as Amelia.

        • marshiemarkII

          Here is the opinion of another queen, a single data point, since I had never heard her digitally altered (radio or CD) and saw only once live in the Trovatore (with the much discussed Zajick). The voice was huge, beautiful and the much discussed vibrato, in the house, gave her a beautiful halo-like shimmering quality. The phrasing wasn’t for the history books, but the warhorses (that she has obviously sung a lot in concerts, etc) like D’amor were quite nice. But the acting was not that great!, she spent most of the time on the floor…….

          • Like you, Marshie, I notice a big improvement in Rad’s delivery of music with which she is clearly very familiar. Whenever I’ve heard her sing arias in concert, she has knocked them out of the park and kept her pitch under control.

            When singing a full role, there are sections where her phrasing is wanting and where the pitch sags, but the “warhorses” as you say, sound great. Even in her much-maligned Met Tosca prima, she had noticeable trouble with pitch but everything came together beautifully for “Vissi d’arte”.

            My theory with her is that the more she has a role “in her voice”, the more comfortable she is with far fewer issues with pitch, etc.

          • marshiemarkII

            Yes Kashie, I think our theory is the reason why she did so well in Ballo, she probably has sung the part a lot, and in particular the Morro ma prima in grazia, though I’d love to see how she does the impossibly difficult oh qual soave brivido, which is really of Wagnerian proportions!!!! Volume is not the issue, but the pitch and the style, but from all reports it was probably quite fab!

            Off topic: Your girl Wallis Giunta was simply S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G yesterday! fabulous from top to bottom, blended gorgeously with the divine Emalie Savoy, and the voice is so well produced and beautiful, and talk about HUGE. She is also a very sympathetic actress, glorious through and through! She will have an unqualified success tomorrow hopefully!

          • Marshie: Yes, she and Dimtri have sung that scena from Ballo a number of times together on tour (and to great effect).

            So glad to hear about Wallis. It is an impressive voice but she’s also a smart girl and has worked hard at harnessing her great talent. It doesn’t hurt that she’s attractive and a good actress to boot. Some people have it all!

          • MontyNostry

            Shame Wallis isn’t a spinto soprano. She could then perform Leonora in Forza and sing: “Son Giunta!”

          • marshiemarkII

            Monty, you’ve said that one before and it’s a good one :-)
            Her voice is so huge, she could well develop into a spinto soprano. She bills herself as a mezzo but I hear a Sieglinde in her easily, after all she is like 26 or 27 now? and it’s a stunning instrument, very homogeneous and rich throughout the range. I was very impressed with her singing over a horrible cold last February in Armide, but healthy as yesterday she was simply amazing!!!!!Really someone to look out for, she will go very far! As Dorabella she was nothing but PERFECT!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Kashania, in general what you say makes sense but this was absolutely not my experience of Radvanovsky’s Vissi d’arte from the Tosca performance I heard -- it was pressed and flat and brittle and horrible.

      • Bianca Castafiore


        You should hear her when you get a chance. I have heard her three times now. Many, many years ago, before she was this famous, I attended an event/lecture with her teacher, Ruth Falcon. Sondra sang the bolero from Vespri. I remember thinking at the time, “wow, she can get quite loud up top.” In 2010 or 2011, I caught her at the Met, in two Toscas. I thought she was utterly miscast. But the voice itself — well, it’s a freakish voice. The top can get very loud and exciting. The rest is a … an acquired taste. I find it mostly dull and the fast, prominent vibrato is not to my taste. But you should go hear her and make up your mind. I think she should stick to Verdi and bel canto, and leave Puccini alone.

        • Camille

          Wait, wait! Arrestati, sei bello!

          Let me gather the evidence here; Radvanosky started as a “mezzo” and then studied with Falcon to transition to soprano?

          If that is the case, alles ist vorbei and now forgiven.
          Case closed. Glad to settle that cold case

          Any questions, ask another singer who worked with Falcon, Debbie Voigt.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            It must have been a very long time ago though. In her first Met appearance in 1995 she sang Ritorna Vincitor and the Wally aria, so it isn’t as if she has ever worked professionally as a mezzo. In any case, if you’re well taught there is no difference in how you produce the voice -- just what music you sing. She must, at some stage, have either been badly taught or not had good instincts for singing, and in the mean time she has never met anybody able to help her sort it out enough to prevent our constant Parterre debate about tight vibrato and pitch issues.

            Camille, not knowing anything about Ruth Falcon can you explain your post to me? I’m not sure if the Debbie Voigt reference is meant to demonstrate that Ruth Falcon is a dreadful teacher or a great one. Voigt was, afterall, pretty great for a good while.

          • Camille

            Caro Cocky Kay—
            This is a question I have been mulling all day and best get back to you before it goes stale. Let me be brief.

            For me, as a form of mental shorthand, excessive vibrato + intonation and pitch issues = lack of proper registration balance and alignment hookup.

            Say she started as a mezzo as a student (as did Birgit and piccola Renata). She studied first with Martial Singher—good coach, not a voice teacher. Between there and somewhere else, she studies with Ruth Falcon, noted soprano (she a student of Crespin). Falcon was Debbie’s teacher. See Marshie Mark for the story on Deb’s middle voice filling out, he told it recently.

            It’s just a big Molotov cocktail of issues. Probably just not finding the right method at the right time and now it’s too late to change for the personal profile has been established.

            Whenever there are pitch issues, and you would know—there are many hemisemidemiquavers in any assigned pitch—there is a problem. Pitch is, to me at least, a critical issue.

            I should have tried to explain more but I am tired out and I just wanted to convey some of what I meant, as I am appreciatively grateful for the way you succinctly sum up singers, and your feeling about wanting to like her. It is just the same feeling I experience as well.

            Cheers, and I am much more worried about keeping La Nina from becoming played out.

            Any more questions, Ich bin da!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Thanks Camille, I am with you now.

            I believe Rad could fix her problems, but she’d probably need to stop working for a year in order to do it, and clearly she’s not going to do that since there are enough people who like her just the way she is and she has a diary choc full of engagements at the highest level. I wish she would though…

            I wonder how she feels about it all.

      • kennedet

        When I hear voices like hers, I always wonder if she made the transition from mezzo to spinto/dramatic soprano sometime earlier in her training. The low and middle sound dark but sacrificed for the higher range. I have heard many voice teachers say if you make the transition from mezzo to soprano, you will lose your low range.That might also be the issue of pitch problems.

        • She did transition from mezzo, I believe. Strange, since her top is the glory of the voice.

  • Avantialouie

    No production by David Alden will EVER be “together.” Alden demands that his concept be the stellar element in any of his productions. Verdi disagreed with that philosophy in 1859 and would disagree still were he alive today. So Alden’s name on a production automatically means that the elements will be out of intended balance. The degree of imbalance does vary in his shows, but in an Alden production even on those rare occasions when Alden’s concept “comes together” it doesn’t “gel” with the other elements as composer and librettist intended.

    • ianw2

      Next time you have one of your apparently regular chats with Verdi about 2012 productions of his operas, do also let us know his thoughts about whether there are good Verdians singing today.

      • Batty Masetto

        These people are in regular contact with the spirits, ian, you mustn’t mock them. They know their mission.

        -- Com’è penoso, com’è penoso, udire i morti dolorare e piangere!

  • Fritz

    The HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR headline would fit Bieto’s production of Ballo. The baritone loses his noggin at about THE 4:40 mark. (You’ll have to copy and paste.)

  • Bianca Castafiore