OP3396. UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Live Performance, 26 Feb., 1966, w.Molinari-Pradelli Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Robert Merrill, Mignon Dunn, Roberta Peters, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-983. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Verdi's MASKED BALL sounded better than it did three seasons ago on its return to the Metropolitan last night. The reasons were many but two in particular: Leontyne Price as Amelia and Francesco Molinari-Pradelli as the conductor. It was a first time for both of them. Miss Price returned to the company in her new role: Mr. Molinari-Pradelli made his debut. What with some glorious singing by the most famous of Negro sopranos and some truly professional Italianate musical direction by a conductor who should have come much sooner to the Met.
All the velvet in Miss Price's voice served her well last night. Her top register sounded clearer and her mezzo range glowed. She negotiated the arduous pages of the [beginning] of the second act skillfully and will doubtless bring more of a thrill in subsequent performances. As soon as she started her duet with Carlo Bergonzi, she sang with more assurance. From then on a listener could only be ecstatic, for here is a great soprano.
One began to appreciate the leadership emanating from the pit. The Met now has another authoritative conductor. With Mr. Bergonzi to sing Riccardo so stylishly and Robert Merrill to glorify a great baritone voice so sonorously as Renato, the male members of this eternal triangle made handsome contributions vocally.
As the apex of interest, Miss Price portrayed Amelia understandingly. She is already inside the role and aware of Amelia's plight.
As Oscar Roberta Peters showed herself a good actress, too, making the most of a most peculiar role. Vocally she had her uncertain spots though she could top the others when the score demanded.
Mignon Dunn had her moment last night. She has gained stature as Ulrica and in full voice came through splendidly. The audience recognized her achievement outspokenly.
As the performance progressed it attained vocal distinction last night. Now that it is again in the repertory, it should be one of the major attractions for the remainder of the season.”
- Miles Kastendieck, THE JOURNAL-AMERICAN
“UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, one of Verdi’s finest middle period works, has fared quite well on discs, with several first-rate studio recordings.
This Met broadcast of Ballo that took place 26 February 1966, just a few months before the Rome RCA sessions. It features Bergonzi, Price, and Merrill. On this occasion, each is in every bit as fine voice as the studio effort. In other words, each sings with surpassing tonal beauty and security, throughout all registers. It’s hard to imagine these roles better vocalized. Bergonzi is magnificent in the RCA studio BALLO. But in my opinion, this Met broadcast surpasses that considerable achievement. Although he was someone who hardly cut the most imposing figure on stage, Bergonzi loved to perform and interact with his audience. For my money, Bergonzi’s live performances always contained an extra degree of passion and sparkle. That is certainly the case in this Met broadcast. From the very first entrance, Bergonzi is fully engaged, delivering his opening recitative crisply and with great style. From there, the performance goes from strength to strength, with the tenor embodying all of the aspects that make Riccardo one of Verdi’s most compelling tenor creations - a benevolent leader, a passionate but guilt-ridden lover, and (rare among Verdi tenors) someone with an engaging sense of humor. As in the studio recording, Bergonzi’s high notes ring out thrillingly. His mastery of dynamics, including a stunning diminuendo immediately before Riccardo’s death is the work of a consummate artist and technician. A wonderful performance by a master singer in one of his best roles, and at the height of his powers.
Likewise, Leontyne Price is in glorious form, and even more passionate than in the studio recording. To hear Price and Bergonzi’s voices soar together in the great Act II love duet is what grand opera is all about. As in the case of Bergonzi’s Riccardo, Price’s Amelia is a fine souvenir of a treasured artist.
Likewise, Robert Merrill is more dramatically involved in this Met broadcast than in the RCA studio recording. Unfortunately, that extra involvement often manifests itself in the explosions of sound Merrill often substituted for a more subtle (and for me, more effective) means of expression. But there is no denying the uniquely glorious, rich sound of Merrill’s voice and, for the better part, the musical way he uses it. Mignon Dunn as Ulrica and Roberta Peters as Oscar more than hold their own. Francesco Molinari-Pradelli and the Met Orchestra give a propulsive and compelling account of this marvelous work.
I think fans of Bergonzi and Price will enjoy hearing these singers rise to the occasion in ‘the heat of the moment’ to surpass their exceptional studio efforts. Bergonzi’s Riccardo, Price’s Amelia, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Merrill’s Renato, are performances for the ages.”
- Classical CD Review, Oct., 2004