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New ‘Masked Ball’ Production Stars Pavarotti, Millo

October 26, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″The Masked Ball″ is back in Stockholm at the Metropolitan Opera and Luciano Pavarotti and Aprile Millo are starring in the new production.

They were in splendid voice and Juan Pons, singing as the husband, vocally held up his side of the triangle, when the new production premiered on Thursday night.

Verdi set ″The Masked Ball″ in 1792 Stockholm but Italian censors rejected that and he moved it to Boston. The production that this one replaces, last seen at the Met in the 1982-82 season, had Scene 1 in what looked like a spartan, bare wood courtroom. The sumptuousness of a throne room is more fun for an audience and the music Pavarotti sings, and the way he sang it Thursday, are suitable for a king.

Pavarotti sang with the beauty that has made him a worldwide star. He may have started singing Verdi too soon in the mid-1970s but now he’s right for it and sounding wonderful.

Miss Millo is a real Verdi soprano, with the right roundness of voice, confidence, strong projection and lovely, youthful-sounding top notes.

James Levine conducted sensitively, keeping orchestra volume low during thought-filled arias.

Harolyn Blackwell sang effectively - we especially like her light coloratura singing - as the king’s page. She must have been frustrated by opening night mishaps - her hat fell off four times and she dropped a cloth draped over her arm - but she carried on with aplomb.

Elena Obraztsova sang Ulrica, the fortune teller, with deep Slavic-sounding chest tones, consistant with the character.

Piero Faggioni did set, costume and lighting design. Pavarotti dons a royal cape in Act 1 with a train that extends down four stairsteps. His other capes and jackets were bordered in gold. Miss Millo’s first costume was a striking, flamboyant gown and big feathered hat. Even in disgrace with her husband at home, she wasn’t shabby.

There is wonderful music in ″A Masked Ball,″ duets, ensembles and choruses, but Verdi lavished even more in other operas.

Though we like the Swedish court better than Boston, there are quibbles about this production. On Act 2, steam puffed out, maybe meant to be clouds, but it was distracting. In Act 3, it puffed up behind and above interior rooms.

A ceiling with a row of skylight windows was always present, looking especially odd outdoors in Act 2. Act 2 looked overly Wagnerian, with steps down mountains on each side and a cut between mountains in the center. Some of the staging, with walkways above walkways and lots of people onstage, was in the massive Zeffirelli style.

This production does solve the king’s death scene difficulties by carrying him from the floor to his throne during the time when tenors in previous productions have seemed to expire then rouse to sing some more.

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