After some recent excursions into lesser-known operas by Hasse, Vivaldi and Cavalli, “Trove Thursday” returns to the tried and true but with an intriguing cast: a live Un Ballo in Maschera featuring Jon Vickers, Amy Shuard, Lucia Popp, Shirley Verrett and Peter Glossop conducted by István Kertész

Ballo has always been a hard work to love; for example, I much prefer the Verdi works written before and after it—Simon Boccanegra (admittedly in its later, revised guise) and La Forza del Destino. The anomalous characters of Oscar and Ulrica can be jarring and I’ve never been fully convinced by the Riccardo-Amelia love affair. But I’ve grown to admire it more and more and found the recent Met production by David Alden particularly compelling.

Here the main interest (in less-than-optimal sound quality) must be the Riccardo of Vickers, a role he sang rarely and never at the Met nor anywhere else in the US as far as I can determine. Perhaps because the Met had Franco Corelli and Richard Tucker and Carlo Bergonzi, etc., Vickers sang relatively little Verdi there. Other than Otello there were just two Aïdas (both with Galina Vishnevskaya with whom he also sang the opera at Covent Garden) and in 1975 his only run anywhere of Alvaro in Forza.

He did perform Don Carlo often elsewhere—at the premiere in London of the celebrated Luchino ViscontiCarlo Maria Giulini production, 10 times in Vienna and, in the same year as this Ballo, in San Francisco alongside his surprising co-stars Claire Watson and Marilyn Horne. His Rodrigo there and his Renato here was Glossop with whom he sang a great deal. They were both featured that well-known Salzburg Otello production with Herbert von Karajan (they even did a single Otello together when the Met performed it in Newport in 1967) and the baritone was Vishnevskaya’s daddy at Covent Garden.

Making his first appearance in the house as Scarpia the same evening in 1971 as James Levine’s debut, Glossop had an odd Met career where by the 1980s he was used mostly as a cover and rewarded with one or two performances of his own by the end of the run. Until 15 or so years ago my only sense of Shuard was that she was a British soprano who sang dramatic roles but never at the Met and had died at 50. But then a friend sent me some excerpts of several live performances of Shuard in operas by Wagner and Richard Strauss and I was quite impressed. Whether Verdi was also her thing might be debatable however.

I wouldn’t have imagined Popp as Oscar but she sang it in Vienna as late as 1972. Verrett appears on the celebrated RCA Ballo recording with Leontyne Price and Bergonzi but I don’t think Ulrica is a role she sang very often on stage. The dynamic Hungarian conductor was one of the brightest hopes of the music world but he, like Shuard and Popp, died young–drowning while swimming at just 43 in 1973.

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
May 14, 1966

Amelia: Amy Shuard
Oscar: Lucia Popp
Ulrica: Shirley Verrett
Riccardo: Jon Vickers
Renato: Peter Glossop
Samuel: Joseph Rouleau
Tom: Forbes Robinson

Conductor: Istvan Kertesz

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