One of the finest recordings of this opera in a stunning XR makeover
VERDI - Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) Jan Peerce (Riccardo), Herva Nelli (Amelia), Robert Merrill (Renato), Claramae Turner (Ulrica), Virginia Haskins (Oscar), George Cehanovsky (Silvano), Nicola Moscona (Samuel), Norman Scott (Tom), John Carmen Rossi (Judge, Servant of Amelia)
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Robert Shaw Chorale conducted by Arturo Toscanini
Toscanini's final opera performance took place over two concerts at Carnegie Hall, both broadcast live on radio in specially-extended programmes. The original cast included the tenor Jussi Björling, replaced at short notice by Jan Peerce. This performance uses the 'censored text' version of the opera (see below), which moves the setting from Sweden to Massachusetts.
The source discs for this transfer were six LP sides issued as promotional gifts by "the makers of Mobilgas and Mobiloil", who had sponsored the broadcasts. Packaged in an album reminiscent more of typical US 78rpm sets than their LP equivalents, the set includes sleevenotes by NBC announcer Ben Grauer and a montage of press cuttings (see below) reviewing the concerts.
Each of the disc labels includes the words "Air Check" on it, which does raise the outside possibility that the discs do not include retakes Toscanini recorded in June 1954 at his final recording sessions, also in Carnegie Hall, and which are present in RCA's commercial issue. However, this seems unlikely - there is no radio announcer or applause on the recording, and clearly some efforts would have been made to produce the finest quality discs. Without catalogue numbers or further details it is difficult to know exactly when these discs were pressed and to whom they were sent, or indeed how many sets were ever made.
The sides themselves proved to be in excellent condition with the exception of the fifth, which was slightly scratched during the final four minutes or so, some remnants of which may still be apparent. Sound quality is excellent throughout - the close-up microphone technique, whilst holding back much of the ambience of Carnegie Hall, does allow for excellent clarity in both voices and orchestra.
Furthermore, this new transfer has benefitted enormously from XR remastering, bringing fabulous new depth and clarity to the sound and opening it out tremendously, something further enhanced when listening to the Ambient Stereo version, which helps create the sense of space lacking in the original by drawing out ambience from the recording and spreading it subtly across the soundstage.
Press cuttings from the LP cover artwork
Verdi - Un Ballo in Maschera
notes from Wikipedia
Un ballo in maschera(A Masked Ball), is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with text by Antonio Somma. The opera's first production was at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, February 17, 1859.
The opera is based on the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, but is not historically accurate. During its composition, Verdi was asked by government censors to make many changes to the opera due to its politically sensitive subject matter. Among these changes is a transportation of the setting to Boston, Massachusetts.
Despite its tragic conclusion, Un ballo in maschera has many moments of the brilliance and irony associated with comedy — a mixture which has led critics to label it "Shakespearean."
Genesis of the opera: censorship and contention
In 1792, the King of Sweden, Gustav III, was killed, the result of a political conspiracy against him. He was shot while attending a masked ball and died 13 days later from his wounds. It is on this episode that Verdi’s Masked Ball is loosely based; however, very little historical truth is contained in Verdi’s opera.
In 1833, the French playwright Eugène Scribe wrote about Gustav in a play called Gustave III. He retained the names of some of the historical figures involved, the conspiracy, and the killing at the masked ball. The rest of the play — the characterizations, the romance, the fortune-telling, etc. — is Scribe’s invention; and it is Scribe’s play that is the source of the story in Verdi’s opera.
Scribe’s play was well known and had been used by other composers, including Auber, as the basis for operas. However, the censors were still wary of it, since it showed the assassination of a king in a recent period of European history. During composition, the censors in Naples, where Verdi’s opera was to be performed, required extensive changes, eventually demanding more alterations than the composer was willing to make. Therefore, he broke his contract and was sued by the management of the Teatro San Carlo, thus provoking him to lodge a counter-claim against the theater for damages. Eventually, the legal fight ended with the house's charges being withdrawn, freeing Verdi to offer the opera to the Rome Opera house.
But the Roman censors also wanted to make changes. Finally it was agreed that the setting would be moved from Europe, and the rank of the leading character would be reduced from king to colonial governor. So it was that the setting of the opera is Boston during the British colonial period, and the leading character is Riccardo, the Count (or Earl) of Warwick.
This opera was first seen in New York its US premiere on 11 February 1861 and in the UK on 15 June of that year. In the 20th century, especially after a 1935 production in Copenhagen, many modern stagings have restored the original Swedish setting and characters´ names. On January 7, 1955, Marian Anderson, singing the role of Ulrica, broke the "color barrier" at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the first African-American artist ever to appear with that company. Today, the opera is performed regularly.
17 February 1859
Riccardo, Earl of Warwick and governor of Boston
(or Gustavo, King of Sweden)
Amelia, wife of Renato, in love with Riccardo
Renato (or Count Anckarström), husband of Amelia and
Riccardo's secretary, best friend and confidant
Oscar, Riccardo's page
Ulrica (or Madame Arvidson), a fortune-teller
Silvano (or Cristiano)
Samuel (or Count Ribbing)
Tom (or Count Horn)
Place, Sweden or Boston, Massachusetts.
Time, Sweden: 1792, or Boston: the end of the 17th century.
Scene 1: A public audience at Riccardo’s palace, attended by his supporters, but also by his enemies who hope for his downfall
Riccardo reviews the list of guests who will attend an upcoming masked ball. He is elated to see on the list the name of the woman he loves – Amelia, the wife of his friend and advisor, Renato. (Aria: La rivedrà nell'estasi / "With rapture I shall look upon her"). When Renato arrives, he tries to warn Riccardo about the growing conspiracy against him (aria: Alla vita che t'arride / "To the life with which you are favoured"), but Riccardo refuses to listen to his words.
Next, Riccardo is presented with a complaint against a fortune-teller named Ulrica, accused of witchcraft. A magistrate calls for her banishment, but Oscar the page defends her (Aria: Volta la terrea / "That tense countenance"). Riccardo resolves to investigate for himself and tells the members of the court to disguise themselves and to meet him at Ulrica’s lodging later that day.
Scene 2: At Ulrica’s dwelling
Ulrica summons her magical powers: Re dell'abisso, affrettati / "King of the abyss make haste". Disguised as a fisherman, Riccardo arrives before the others. He makes the fortune of a sailor named Silvano come true by spiriting a document of promotion into his pouch, convincing the crowd of the truth of Ulrica's powers. When he realizes that Amelia is coming to see Ulrica, he hides and watches. Alone with Ulrica, Amelia confesses that she is tormented by her love for Riccardo, and asks for a means to bring peace to her heart. Ulrica tells her to gather a certain herb with magical powers; Riccardo resolves to be there when she does so. Amelia leaves.
Now Riccardo presents himself again, along with all of the courtiers, and asks to have his fortune told. (Aria: Di' tu se fedele / "Say whether the sea Awaits me faithfully"). Ulrica reveals that he will be killed by the next man who shakes his hand. He laughingly dismisses her prophecy and offers his hand to the courtiers, who refuse to take it. Renato arrives and shakes Riccardo's hand in greeting. Riccardo’s true identity is now revealed and he is acclaimed by the people.
On the outskirts of the town, at the gallows-place. Midnight
Amelia, conquering her fears, has come here alone to pick the herb of which Ulrica told her (Aria: Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa / " If through thr arid stalks"). She is surprised by Riccardo, who has come to meet her. Now the two finally declare their love for each other.
Unexpectedly, Renato arrives, and Amelia covers her face with her veil before he can recognize her. Renato explains to Riccardo that the conspirators are pursuing him, and his life is in danger. Riccardo leaves, making Renato promise to escort the veiled woman safely back to town, not asking her identity. When the conspirators arrive, they confront Renato; in the struggle, Amelia’s veil drops. Renato assumes that Amelia and Riccardo have been involved in an adulterous love affair. He asks the two leaders of the conspiracy, Samuel and Tom, to meet him the next day.
Scene 1: Renato’s house
Renato has resolved to kill Amelia for the dishonor she has brought on him. She protests her innocence and begs to see her son one last time. (Aria: Morrò, ma prima in grazia / "I shall die - but one last wish"). Renato relents, and declares that it is Riccardo, not Amelia, who deserves to die (Aria: Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima / "It was you who stained this soul").
Samuel and Tom arrive, and Renato asks to join their plot, pledging the life of his son as proof of his sincerity. They agree to draw lots to decide who will kill Riccardo. Amelia is forced to draw the winning name – Renato.
Oscar, the page, arrives with invitations to the masked ball; Samuel, Tom and Renato agree that this is where the assassination will take place.
Scene 2: The ball
Riccardo, torn between love and duty, has resolved to renounce his love for Amelia and send her and Renato back to England (Aria: Ma se m'è forza perderti / "But if I am forced to lose you").
At the ball, Renato tries to learn from Oscar what costume Riccardo is wearing. Oscar at first refuses to tell (Aria: Saper vorreste / "You want to know How he is dressed"), but finally answers: a black cloak and a red ribbon. Riccardo manages to identify Amelia and tells her of the decision he has made. As they say goodbye, Renato stabs Riccardo. The wounded Riccardo discloses that though he loved Amelia, she never broke her marriage vows. He pardons all the conspirators, bidding farewell to his friends and his country as he dies.
Notes on the 24-bit download: Please see this page for test files and further information regarding this format. Although restoration work is done at a sample rate of 44.1kHz, we have upsampled the final 24-bit master to 48kHz for additional replay compatibility of our FLAC download. This 24-bit version is NOT suitable for transfer to audio CD.
Our twenty-four bit FLAC downloads can be replayed in full quality using a standard DVD video player, a DVD writer and an inexpensive piece of PC software - see here for more information about replay from Video DVD discs.
Act I: Volta la terrea - Signori oggi d'Ulrica
(Ambient Stereo version)
covers to print:
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CD-writing cuesheet (save as .cue): (Use this to split MP3 files - see here)