Tag: Giuseppe Verdi (page 1 of 3)

“As nearly perfect an opera as one is likely to find”: Solti’s Un Ballo in Maschera

“I love Ballo, which is as nearly perfect an opera as one is likely to find,” wrote Sir Georg Solti in his 1997 Memoirs. The conductor first performed the work as music director of the Frankfurt Opera in 1954, and six years later, Verdi’s masterful work served as Solti’s first operatic collaboration in the recording studio with soprano Birgit Nilsson, when he recorded the work with the Rome Opera in July of 1960 and 1961 (a project which began with tenor Jussi Bjoerling, but in the end enlisted the services of Carlo Bergonzi).

Un Ballo in Maschera rehearsal schedule (1982). Merritt Room Mus 857.2.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate

Un Ballo in Maschera rehearsal schedule (1982). Merritt Room Mus 857.2.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate. (Click to enlarge)

In May and June of 1982 (with further sessions in May 1983) Solti returned to the recording studio, this time at Kingsway Hall in London, to record the work a second time, with Margaret Price and Luciano Pavarotti. The orchestra for this second recording was the National Philharmonic, a studio orchestra of players assembled from London’s principal orchestras; no stage performances were associated with this cast. The rehearsal schedule which accompanies this conducting score indicates the day-to-day scheduling from May 25 to June 12 of 1982, in mainly afternoon (with some evening) sessions, including the pages rehearsed (Ricordi full and vocal scores) and timings. Solti performed the work complete, without cuts.

  • Verdi, Giuseppe
    [Ballo in Maschera]
    Un ballo in maschera / di G. Verdi. Milano: G. Ricordi, [1896?]. Merritt Room Mus 857.1.679.7 Solti.

    Rebound into 2 volumes with numerous annotations throughout in red and black pencil in Sir Georg Solti’s hand; rehearsal schedule (1 pg.) inserted.

    Gift of the Solti Estate.

Giuseppe Verdi, "Forse la soglia attinse," Un ballo in maschera. Merritt Mus 857.1.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate.

Giuseppe Verdi, “Forse la soglia attinse,” Un ballo in maschera. Merritt Mus 857.1.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate. (Click to enlarge)

Also noteworthy in this heavily annotated score are his markings in various “layers” of colored pencil. Lady Solti has cited his “keen desire to listen to playbacks of the takes of his recordings,” and Decca recording engineer Gordon Parry noted that Solti would “scribble in his scores in different colours, according to which [take].”1

The work figured prominently in Solti’s life one further time, in July of 1989, when, following the sudden death of Herbert von Karajan, he was called upon with only a week’s notice to conduct John Schlesinger’s new production at the Salzburg Festival. His initial refusal was overcome by Plácido Domingo, and in a riveting tale involving airlifting his score from his London apartment to his summer home in Roccamare, Italy, and the intervention of the commandant of the local NATO base near Salzburg who allowed a private plane, supplied by one of the Festival’s most devoted supporters, to land there, Solti’s “potentially unrewarding and risky task” was a success; he was invited to conduct the work again at the festival the following summer. Those were to be his final performances of Un Ballo in Maschera; though any conductor who can claim as his Riccardos, Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo can be justly proud of his achievement.

– Robert Dennis


1. Patmore, David N. C. “Sir Georg Solti and the Record industry,” ARSC Journal 41.2 (2010): 218, http://ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=503003138&site=ehost-live&scope=site (Harvard users).

When Love Goes Wrong….Composers and Librettists Go “Yay!”

We would like to remind those who will be alone on Valentine’s Day that the Music Library will be open from 9 am to 10 pm, and our audiovisual stacks offer a wide array of reminders that the course of true love does not run particularly smoothly. For the Taylor Swiftian who just knows that if you’re nice and helpful enough, your beloved is bound to leave hir current stormy relationship and start dating you, La Gioconda offers a warning (also a reminder that Les Miserables is far from the only bizarre Victor Hugo plot rendered into popular musical entertainment.)  Take it from Lucia di Lammermoor‘s Arturo: if she doesn’t want to be with you, she really doesn’t want to be with you!

Found your perfect mate? Sure nothing can go wrong? Otello and his bride might have something to say about that. Elsa from Lohengrin would probably advise you to be happy with what you have and not ask too many questions, while Judith from Bluebeard’s Castle might modify that recommendation and suggest you ask the questions before you and your intended are isolated together in a gloomy stronghold. Does s/he have controlling, overbearing relatives? Does s/he have a problem with drinking, drugs, gambling or infidelity?  Does s/he just have problems, full stop?  And if you doubt the need for a pre-nup, consider the fate of Elisabetta in Don Carlo: don’t let your prospective father-in-law substitute himself for your bridegroom at the last minute.

If you and your Ms. or Mr. Right are thinking of having kids, Peter and Gertrud from Hänsel und Gretel would urge you to find competent and reliable child care.  Asking Kostelnička Buryjovka or Azucena from Il Trovatore, for example, would be a bad idea. Make sure your babysitter clearly understands and follows all instructionsBandits, pirates, enemy soldiers and other wanderers are everywhere, just waiting to seize your precious little bundle and raise him or her as one of their own.  (And if you must split up, you’ll probably want a better custody plan than the one in Medea.)

If, on the other hand, your beloved just wants somebody who isn’t you (and you don’t feel comfortable stabbing, betraying or poisoning them) why not be like two of the greatest characters in all opera and graciously let them go?  The beautiful music you get to sing, and the respect from other characters in the opera, might make the whole thing worth it!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sarah Barton

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