Tag Archives: Sara Fulgoni

Dance in the Dark

UN BALLO IN MASCHERA

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 6th March, 2019

 

Welsh National Opera’s Spring season at the Hippodrome kicks off with this Verdi gem in which the maestro blends aspects of opera buffo with melodrama.   It’s an opera with a split personality, with moods changing seamlessly.  Raimund Bauer’s set, of huge, substantial flats with lots of small windows and red curtains tower over the action and are rotated into various positions to suggest the different locations.  They are impressive things to be sure but their imposing scale and the general blackness of the background do not serve the comical, more playful moments of the score.

Political intrigue, dire prophecies from a fortune-teller, a love triangle, betrayal – it’s all here, as Riccardo (Gwyn Hughes Jones) struggles with his love for his bff’s wife Amelia (Mary Elizabeth Williams) while she struggles with her love for him.  The bff, Renato (Roland Wood) finds out (of course he does!) and falls in league with a bunch of conspirators who are plotting Riccardo’s assassination.

As Riccardo, Jones is a mass of energy, which he channels into his powerful tenor.  No weedy hero he, Jones is a delight to hear, bringing power and playfulness to the role.  As Amelia, Williams is sublime, heart-breaking and nuanced in her delivery – most of the melodrama comes her way – and she is perfect.  Wood’s baritone is earnest and passionate; Renato feels things as deeply as he sings them!

As ever, the WNO chorus are excellent value, cavorting around in top hats, doing a conga, before turning up at the ball like skeletal extras from the movie Coco.

Sara Fulgoni is a lot of fun as the imperious fortune-teller, Ulrica, as is Harriet Eyley’s Oscar, a perky manservant bringing comic relief and a breath-taking mullet.

While the setting may be too dark for us to catch all the comic business going on, the big moments are superbly staged, with some striking, symbolic rather than literal, imagery.  Director David Pountney gives us masks and mystery, with a touch of the Gothic.

It’s a banquet for the ears.  The singing is thoroughly top notch and the WNO, under the baton of Carlo Rizzi, delivers Verdi’s sumptuous music exquisitely.  On the whole, the production leans toward the darkness rather than striking a balance with the light, yet for all that it is hugely enjoyable.  I had a ball!

Bill Cooper

When your love-life ‘stalls’ – Mary Elizabeth Williams as Amelia (Photo: Bill Cooper)

 

 


Not Up To Much

BEATRICE AND BENEDICT
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 7th March, 2012


Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite plays. Tamper with it at your peril. Hector Berlioz, in trying to create a lightweight and witty comic opera, has not so much tampered with Shakespeare’s sublime romantic comedy as diluted it to almost homeopathic proportions. The main plot has been excised in order to bring the rocky relationship of Beatrice and Benedick to the fore. The problem is without the main conflict the couple’s tentative attempts to realise and declare the feelings they have for each other is nothing more than a matter of their own wilful pride. They don’t wish to lose face having railed against each other so publicly. Their relationship is never in any real jeopardy and as a result lacks depth and, frankly, I found it difficult to care.

The piece is more of a singspiel – the music stops every now and then for passages of dialogue, some of it cut and pasted from Shakespeare; it is painfully obvious when the words aren’t Bill’s . Robbed of dramatic tension, the scene where the couple finally admit their feelings is a pale imitation, a weak imposter. With no “Kill Claudio” line, there is no opportunity for Benedict (sic) to prove himself.

Despite my misgivings and disappointment with the material, I have to state in no uncertain terms that, as ever, the production values are second to none. Welsh National Opera is a world class company and everything is as you’d expect: sumptuous, detailed and the singing sublime. As Benedict, Robin Tritschler is both dashing and very funny. He appears more at ease with the spoken passages than others in the company. All the more frustrating when Benedick’s scenes and speeches are truncated! There is also some fine comic playing from Sara Fulgoni as a formidable and yet tender Beatrice but she is denied her eavesdropping scene. I couldn’t help wishing Mozart had written this adaptation and began to think I should have listened to Cosi fan Tutte instead.

Comedy policemen, Dogberry, Verges and the Watch have all been removed. In their place we get choirmaster Somarone (Donald Maxwell) who is a likable comic turn, interspersing his musical incompetence with topical quips and musical in-jokes. His choir is huge, filling the stage. Their rehearsal is funny but there is too much of that am-dram silent meeting and greeting where everyone is pleased to see each other. This is a cliché of crowd scenes director Elijah Moshinsky could easily avoid.

Laura Mitchell’s Hero is in fine voice, singing about her (somewhat inexplicable) pre-wedding misgivings and there are some moments of real beauty and fun. On the whole though, the piece is dramatically unsatisfying. It is a confection, a chocolate box from which someone has already snaffled the best chocolates.