Especially memorable on Thursday were the understated eloquence of John Sharp’s cello solo during Amelia’s aria “Morrò, ma prima in grazia,” and the spine — sometimes strong, sometimes shadowy — provided by the timpanist David Herbert. “Ballo” is full of simmering quiet, from which the full orchestra was able, time and again, to suddenly explode with savage, Mutian precision.
The Chicago Symphony Chorus — prepared by Donald Palumbo, here for a stint after the end of the season at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is the chorus master — sounded richly massed, and sometimes terrifyingly robust, but not turgid. Even forceful phrases did not cut off abruptly; consonants and vowels alike felt rounded and full.
Best among the featured singers were the mezzo-soprano Yulia Matochkina, commanding as the soothsayer Ulrica, and the soprano Damiana Mizzi, sprightly but silky as the page Oscar, a rare Verdian trouser role. The baritone Luca Salsi was an articulate, occasionally gruff Renato. The tenor Francesco Meli — like Salsi, a Muti favorite — was brash and ringing as Riccardo; his generosity faltered only occasionally at the very top of his range.
When the accompaniment was spare and the vocal line floating, the soprano Joyce El-Khoury sang Amelia with soft-grained delicacy, though her tone narrowed as more pressure was placed on it. With her sound brooding, she effectively projected her character’s pitifully unmitigated sorrow. But she and Meli were pressed to their limits by the ecstatic end of their Act II duet.
Singing the main conspirators were two talented bass-baritones: Kevin Short and (especially solid) Alfred Walker. The baritone Ricardo José Rivera; the clear, forthright tenor Lunga Eric Hallam; and the sweet-sounding tenor Aaron Short showed the care with which the orchestra cast even tiny roles.
But the star of the show was never in doubt. This was not Muti’s final performance in Chicago, not by a long shot. There was nevertheless special poignancy near the end, hearing — 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.