Verdi-Un Ballo in Maschera (Pavarotti/Metropolitan Opera/Levine) (1991) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Aug-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Main Menu Audio
Gallery-Photo-Un Ballo In Maschera at the Met
Gallery-Catalogue titles
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 136:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Brian Large
Metropolitan Opera
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Luciano Pavarotti
Leo Nucci
Aprile Millo
Florence Quivar
Harolyn Blackwell
Gordon Hawkins
Terry Cook
Jeffrey Wells
Charles Anthony
Richard Fracker
Case Flexbox
RPI ? Music Giuseppe Verdi

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Italian dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Italian
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Verdi's 23rd opera is the story of King Gustavus III of Sweden, who was assassinated in 1792 at the masked ball of the title. The story had previously been set by Auber in 1833, with a libretto by Eugene Scribe. Verdi commissioned Antonio Somma to translate and condense the original libretto into Italian.

    While based on a true story, this version of the events is not historically accurate. The manner of the King's death as well as the identity of the assassin were changed, presumably for dramatic purposes.

    Shortly before Verdi attempted have this opera staged in Naples in 1858 an assassination attempt was made upon the life of Napoleon III. The local authorities supported the Bourbons and refused to allow any opera dealing with regicide. The censor suggested that the action be moved to the "exotic" city of Boston, with the lead character being changed to the Governor of Boston and named Riccardo rather than Gustavus. The opera was performed in this version for a century. For this 1991 Metropolitan Opera production, the original libretto was used.

    Luciano Pavarotti is in excellent voice as Gustavus in this recording, his ringing, heroic tenor sounding fresh and unforced despite a shaky start. Aprile Millo as Amelie also sings very well. The closeness of the filming shows up the inadequate acting skills of the principals. Pavarotti's acting ranges from lowered left eyebrow to raised left eyebrow, while Millo just squints, her already small eyes disappearing completely under her long eyelashes. Leo Nucci is fine as Renato, but Florence Quivar is fairly dull as the fortune teller.

    The sets are quite spectacular, especially the gallows set in Act Two and the ballroom in Act Three.

    The performance itself does not quite hang together, despite some superlative singing and playing, probably because the tempo is a little too slow. This can be squarely laid at the feet of conductor James Levine, who is notorious for his slow speeds. I have three recordings of this opera on CD. One, the final opera recording by Herbert von Karajan and featuring Nucci and Quivar in the same roles, is highly recommended by the Penguin Guide, but I find it poorly conducted by the ailing maestro and while it is well sung the overall impression is that it is listless and lifeless. A 1943 recording with the great Beniamino Gigli is much better, capturing the richness of Verdi's score despite the dated sound. The best recording I have heard is one from EMI released in the 1950s, with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi. This is a superb performance and makes this DVD seem tame in comparison. Unfortunately it does not come with a filmed performance.

    The acting in this Metropolitan performance is pretty poor, even for some of the minor characters such as the page. Despite these reservations, this is still an enjoyable disc and can be recommended for Verdi's masterful score and some excellent singing.

    The plot is as follows (contains MAJOR spoilers):

Act 1

    The first scene takes place in the palace throne room. On entering the room, the King is given a list of guests for the upcoming masked ball. On the guest list is his secret lover Amelia, wife of his minister and friend Renato. Renato enters the room and warns Gustavus that there is a plot against him. A magistrate enters and gives the King a writ for his signature, which is to banish the fortune teller Ulrica. Gustavus decides to visit the fortune teller in disguise to find out if she is genuine.

    The King disguises himself as a fisherman and asks Ulrica to read his palm. She says he will die at the hands of a friend, and that his killer will be the next person to shake his hand. Renato arrives and of course shakes his friend's hand.

Act 2

    Amelia appears under the local gallows by night seeking a herb that will cure her of her love for the King. Gustavus arrives and they declare their passion for each other. Renato appears to warn the King of approaching assassins, at which point Amelia covers her face with her hood so as not to be recognised by her husband.

    Gustavus entreats Renato to escort the lady back to the city without seeking her identity, and then leaves. The assassins appear, but when they discover Renato instead of the King their disappointment leads them to make disparaging remarks about the King's lady. In order to save her husband from a fight to the death, Amelia reveals her identity. This inspires Renato with hatred for Amelia and Gustavus and he invites the leaders of the conspirators to meet him the next day.

Act 3

    Back at home, Renato tells Amelia that he is going to kill her. She begs to see their young son before she dies, to which Renato agrees. He then decides that he should revenge himself on the King rather than on Amelia, and as is the way of these things, the two leaders of the conspiracy arrive at this point. They plan to kill the King, and draw lots to determine who will strike the fatal blow. With dramatic irony, Renato forces Amelia (who has just returned to the room and knows nothing of the conspiracy) to draw the name out of a vase. Of course, she draws the name of her husband.

    Meanwhile, Gustavus had decided to end this fatal passion by sending Renato and his wife to Finland. He ignores an unsigned note warning him of the plot against his life and goes to the ballroom.

    In the final scene, Renato persuades the King's page to reveal which of the masked guests is the King (as if he couldn't tell which one was Pavarotti!). Amelia tells the King to leave the ball, but he refuses. As they bid a final farewell, Renato misconstrues their conversation and plunges his dagger into the King's back. Dying, Gustavus forgives Renato and assures him that his wife has done nothing wrong.

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Transfer Quality


    This is a very good transfer from a video source.

    The opera is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The video is clean and clear but not especially sharp, though this is really an issue with the source material rather than the transfer. This looks very much like it is from a video source, most likely a one-inch video master. Colours are drab and looked a little washed out. Shadow detail is not brilliant but is acceptable, and this is undoubtedly a result of the stage lighting. No low level noise was noticed.

    Some mild aliasing is present, such as at 100:04, but not at disturbing levels.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change occurring at 61:02. The layer change occurs at the end of applause but is poorly placed, as the first note of the next track is lost. If it had been placed a few seconds earlier, it would have been much less disruptive. This carelessness is typical of opera releases from Universal Classics, unfortunately.

    Subtitles are available in six languages. The English subtitles are clear and easy to read, and are well timed.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The DTS soundtrack is superb, with all instruments and voices sounding lifelike and detailed. The bass is rich and full, and the front soundstage sounds realistic. There is little in the way of subwoofer activity and this is not needed, as there would be a tendency to emphasise stage noises as well as the music. The audio level in the rear channels is well-judged, adding ambience to the soundstage without overwhelming it and eschewing any cheap effects.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is only slightly less detailed and rich than the DTS. The difference is so small that most people may not notice it.

    The default track is Linear PCM stereo, and this is the best of the three tracks. Though not as immersive (is that really a word?) as the DTS track, there is a level of detail lacking in either of the other tracks. If anything, the sound is even richer and fuller here than in the surround mixes. Most listeners used to hearing this opera on CD will want to listen to this track.

    Audio sync on each track is faultless.

    The music is of course by Giuseppe Verdi and it has numerous memorable passages. This opera is regularly performed, which attests to its worth both musically and theatrically.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    The main menu has some music from the opera as background.

Photo Gallery

    The photo gallery is entitled Un Ballo In Maschera at the Met, and features 7 stills from various productions, from Caruso onwards.


    This is a series of photographs of the cover art of DVDs released on the Deutsche Grammophon label.

Trailer (9:00)

    This is a series of excerpts from opera DVDs released on the Deutsche Grammophon label.


    The booklet has production photographs, credits for the production and the DVD, a two page essay by Kenneth Chalmers and a detailed track-by-track synopsis .

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD was manufactured in the EEU for worldwide release in the NTSC format, and consequently the DVD is exactly the same in all regions. Therefore, the only consideration as to where this DVD is sourced from is price.


    This is a good though not brilliant performance of one of Verdi's finest operas on a well mastered DVD, apart from the layer change.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is superb.

    The extras are so-so.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, April 30, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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