Particularly memorable on Thursday were the understated eloquence of John Sharp’s cello solo during Amelia’s aria ‘Morrò, ma prima in grazia’ and the backbone – sometimes strong, sometimes shady – provided by the timpani player David Herbert. “Ballo” is full of simmering silence, from which the entire orchestra could suddenly explode over and over with ferocious Mutian precision.
The Chicago Symphony Chorus—prepared by Donald Palumbo, here for a postseason stint at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is the choir director—sounded richly composed and at times terrifyingly robust, but not swollen. Even strong sentences were not abruptly broken; both consonants and vowels felt round and full.
The best singers were the mezzo-soprano Yulia Matochkina, who performed as the fortune teller Ulrica, and the soprano Damiana Mizzi, cheerful but silky like the page Oscar, a rare Verdian trouser role. The baritone Luca Salsi was an eloquent, sometimes gruff Renato. The tenor Francesco Meli – like Salsi, a favorite of Muti – was brash and ringing like Riccardo; his generosity only occasionally faltered at the top of his range.
When the accompaniment was sparse and the vocal line floated, soprano Joyce El-Khoury sang Amelia with soft-grained delicacy, though her tone narrowed the more pressure was applied to it. With her brooding sound, she effectively projected her character’s pitiful, outright sadness. But she and Meli were pushed to their limits by the ecstatic ending of their Act II duet.
The main conspirators sang two talented bass-baritones: Kevin Short and (especially solid) Alfred Walker. The baritone Ricardo Jose Rivera; the bright, outspoken tenor Lunga Eric Hallam; and the sweet-sounding tenor Martin Luther Clark showed the care with which the orchestra played even small roles.
But the star of the show never wavered. This was far from Muti’s last performance in Chicago. Nevertheless, towards the end there was a special poignancy, when I heard – from the voice of a character named Riccardo, no less – a dying farewell to “beloved America.”
Un Ballo in Maschera
Repeats Saturday and Tuesday at Symphony Center, Chicago; cso.org.