This is the Year of Mozart, the 200th anniversary of his death. More by accident, it's also the year of "The Masked Ball," Verdi's aria-packed opera staged by about every company in sight, including the Met and the Baltimore Opera.
Tonight at 8 p.m. on MPT's channels 22 and 67, the Met's 2 1/2 -hour version taped Jan. 26 brings a solid performance of the 1859 opera romanticizing events leading to the assassination of the popular Swedish King Gustav III at a 1792 court ball.
James Levine conducts and F. Murray Abraham is the host. The delightful soprano Harolyn Blackwell, raised in Washington, D.C., puts zip into the production.
In one of his favorite roles, Luciano Pavarotti is a dynamic Gustav. He sings his love for Amelia in Act II and his emotional pardoning of all in the death scene in especially controlled, beautiful tones. Some close-ups after arias are distracting, but when mezzo Florence Quivar as Ulrica sings of the occult, the disguised Pavarotti's expression of wonder is charming.
Yet, soprano Blackwell, who sang sensitively with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in its 75th birthday concert in February here, is the small gem in the performance. As the page Oscar, she supplies the only sheer fun, a smile-filled, prancing, pint-sized, pretty pal of Gustav.