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Giuseppe Verdi, Un ballo in maschera: soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor, Royal Opera House, 17.11.2005 (ED)

 

 

Co-production with Houston Grand Opera Association and Fundacion del Teatro-Lirico-Madrid.

 

 

Samuel: Robert Gleadow (bass) *

Tom: Matthew Rose (bass)

Oscar: Patrizia Biccirč (soprano)

Riccardo: Richard Margison (tenor)

Renato: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)

Giudice: Nikola Matisic (tenor) *

Ulrica: Stephanie Blythe (mezzo-soprano)

Amelia: Nina Stemme (soprano)

Amelia's Servant: Neil Gillespie (tenor)

Silvano: Jared Holt (baritone)

*Jette Parker Young Artist

 

 

Director: Mario Martone

Set Designs: Sergio Tramonti

Costume Designs: Bruno Schwengl

Lighting: Cesare Accetta

 

Political machinations, the love of a married woman, revenge, the overthrow of power and some dabbling with the devil – the plot would appear to have all the ingredients for a truly great opera. Yet no Verdi opera suffered more at the hands of censors during its composition than Un ballo in maschera. This achieved two things:  to cause Verdi’s compositional focus to occasionally waver (a fact that the big moments for all concerned including chorus and orchestra cannot totally obscure) and to give posterity a work that has suffered a varied stage life.

Martone and Tramonti’s lavish production, making an early return to the Covent Garden stage following its first outing last season, presents the Boston version, as opposed to the Swedish version that has seen resurgent popularity in recent years. Their staging also highlights the slight weaknesses in the score – particularly in the Act I scenes, taking their cue from Verdi they slip into formulaic massed chorus scene endings complete with hat-doffing and over animated gesturing. Tramonti’s elaborate sets work more effectively in some places than others: Ulrica’s cage-hovel is effective in accommodating the massed chorus whilst giving focus to the scene’s action. Act II, set around a gallows outside the city walls provided ample atmosphere but at the expense of easily allowing the action to flow on as it should have straight in to Act III, so maintaining dramatic momentum, instead of having it dissipated by a lengthy interval. Act III’s changes of scenes were effectively, if elaborately, handled to provide an ingenious backdrop to the culminating action, the assassination of Riccardo.



Musically, after a hesitant start the orchestra rose to moments of drama with enthusiasm and fulsome tone. Charles Mackerras’ instinct for tempi was well judged, and the ferocity of attack he encouraged particularly from brass and timpani at the start of Act I, scene 2 and at the drawing of lots (Act III, scene 1) was truly hair-raising. His pacing too of Ulrica and Amelia’s scenes in particular showed a real dramatic sense at work, and provided an effective contrast to the surface happiness of the ball scene, when underhand business is afoot.

Richard Margison’s Riccardo was strongly voiced, if a little lacking in vocal subtlety – though when he did shade down the tone was pleasingly intimate. Dmitri Hvorostovsky made more of Renato through facial gestures and glowering jealous looks than movement, seeming oddly stiff at times. His voice has appreciably hardened of late, losing some of its earlier suppleness, and diction too was occasionally indistinct under his uniformly tight tone.

Stephanie Blythe made the most of her scene as Ulrica, acting and singing the part fully to convey a sense of wonder in the power of darker forces. Nina Stemme’s Amelia was fully convincing and involved to chart the path of a woman in love through both the highs and lows that lead her to take desperate measures. Vocally she grew in strength throughout the evening – the sense of isolation and vulnerability felt in her rendition of “Ecco l’orrido campo” added to by the relative fragility of her voice earlier on. Alongside such vocally formidable partners Patrizia Biccirč as the page Oscar came across as being slightly out sung, although her singing in itself was done with character and style, her acting reinforced this to make the most of her opportunities. Other roles, inevitably smaller, were cast from strength – and it was good to hear two Jette Parker Young Artists, and particularly Robert Gleadow.

Ultimately though the evening belonged to one man – Sir Charles Mackerras. Spending his eightieth birthday conducting the performance gave the impression that this was for him, musically at least, just another night and that music will keep flowing forth from his baton. The celebratory spirit started with the curtain call and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday played and sung by orchestra, chorus, soloists and the assembled audience. I’m sure by now the cake has all been eaten, but here’s to many more, Sir Charles!

 

 

Evan Dickerson

 

 

UN BALLO IN MASCHERA  PHOTOS © CATHERINE ASHMORE – NOVEMBER 2005





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)