David Alden’s dark production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera places naturalistic characters in a highly stylized world. This world is almost entirely black and white, with slanted walls, startlingly sudden lighting changes, and eccentric choreography that evoke the film noir genre. Despite the effect of theatricality this creates, the drama is intimate and emotionally devastating.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky's Renato (Count Anckarström) is the dramatic center of the show. Far from being a cold-hearted devotee of his personal honor (as Renato too often is), he is still desperately in love with his wife Amelia. His claim that only “hate and death” remain in his heart after her apparent betrayal is false – his continued love for her fuels his anger, prevents him from killing her, and leads him to seek revenge on Gustavo (Riccardo). This touching characterization is matched by Hvorostovsky’s unflagging vocal intensity and beautiful tone, especially during his Act III aria “Eri tu.”

Renato’s unfortunate wife Amelia is sung with grace and sorrow by Sondra Radvanovsky. Her character is a difficult one, but she manages to convey despair across all three acts with sufficient variety to keep the audience’s interest and sympathy. She also demonstrates impressive vocal skill, with a rich tone across the character’s wide range.

As Amelia’s admirer, the self-sacrificing King Gustavo, Marcelo Álvarez makes being a Verdi tenor seem easy. He is vocally at home in the role’s varied and often fast-paced music. His gestures and acting seemed forced in the first scene, but he quickly warms up and, by the fortune-telling scene, is infectiously enthusiastic.

The fortune-teller Ulrica appears only briefly, but Stephanie Blythe makes a strong impression, singing magnificently as always. The overwhelming force and fullness of her voice do not come across in recording, but her luscious low notes and intelligent interpretive choices do.

Oscar, Gustavo’s page, is the opera’s most thankless role. The character can seem chirpy and annoying, but the role requires quick coloratura and quite a bit of glamour-less ensemble singing. Kathleen Kim makes the most of it, singing with great accuracy and always keeping a sparkle in her eye. This Oscar’s irresistible gaiety clearly underlies his rapport with Gustavo, and their relationship is touchingly drawn.

With Fabio Luisi's masterful hand guiding the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the music is precise and beautiful. It moves briskly but slows for the occasional poignant moment, and it supports the singers well during the arias and ensembles. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus also turns in an excellent performance. The men’s chorus does a particularly good job of conveying haughty superiority in their quiet jeering at the end of Act II.

Mr. Alden’s 1920s setting doesn’t illuminate any hidden themes in the opera, but it does provide an opportunity for some of the most stunning costuming ever to grace the Met stage. Less explicably, the production includes constant visual references to the fall of Icarus. This might seem to fit the plot (a king is betrayed to his death, partly through his own fault), but it is undermined by the fact that the singers’ performances make this Renato’s tragedy rather than Gustavo’s.