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September 2013 Guides

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Masked Ball

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By Larry Stickler
 · December 6, 2012

King of Sweden Gustave III was assassinated at a masquerade ball in Stockholm in 1792. This event is the basis for the plot for Un Ballo in Maschera ( The Masked Ball) by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

Un Ballo in Maschera, a melodrama in three acts, will be the live in high definition transmission from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at 12:55 pm this Saturday, December 8. The opera will be shown in four theaters in West Virginia: Cinemark at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville; Great Escape in Nitro; Hollywood Stadium 12 in Granville/Morgantown; and Greenbrier Valley Theater in Lewisburg, as well as the Cinemark Theater in Ashland, Kentucky.

Tenor Marcelo Alvarez will sing the role of Gustavo III, King of Sweden. The role of Count Anckarstrom, aide to and close friend of King Gustavo, will be sung by baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky will sing the role of Amelia, Anckarstrom's wife. The role of the fortune teller Madame Ulrica Arvidsson will be sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. Lyric coloratura soprano Kathleen Kim will sing the role of the page Oscar, a trouser role unusual for Verdi.

Because the censors said that the assassination of a monarch could not be presented on an Italian stage, the historical setting was changed to colonial Boston, Massachusetts. The new production at the Metropolitan Opera, however, follows the original intent, and places the action in Sweden.

Stage director David Alden and his team, including longtime collaborators Paul Steinberg (sets) and Brigitte Reiffenstuel (costumes), developed an aesthetic that is clearly Swedish, but different from the bewigged baroque background traditional for this choice (William Berger).

We've made a dreamlike, slightly nightmarish early 20th century environment, a very correct buttoned-up Swedish court. It's closer to Strindberg and Igmar Bergman than to a Swedish Versailles,” explains Alden.

A work of great sophistication, Un Ballo will be sung in Italian with English subtitles. An encore performance will be shown on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 6:30 pm.

Verdi had a talent for composing unforgettable melodies to match high points of drama. Dramatic and lyrical music express love, betrayal and death. The tension between darkness and levity is emphasized throughout the opera (Berger).

Larry Stickler
Professor of Music
Marshall University 

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