Tag Archives: Verdi

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)

 

 

Advertisements

Not so simple Simon

SIMON BOCCANEGRA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 16th April, 2013

 

Verdi’s opera of politics and melodrama packs a lot in to its two-and-a-half hours.  So much so, it can be difficult to keep clear who is who and what they’re up to, but this I think is mainly the fault of the libretto rather than this production.

Director  James Conway brings the action forward in time to the 1930s depression.  There is more than a hint of organised crime to the carryings on.  Boccanegra (traditionally an ex-pirate) is described as an ex-black marketer.  This is the world of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, except everyone is clamouring for Boccanegra to become Doge, dodgy though he may have been.

Most of the intrigue centres around Boccanegra’s bastard daughter, who went missing when she was an infant.  Her maternal grandfather resents Boccanegra for this and for the death of the child’s mother.  He – Fiesco – forms an alliance with Paolo against Boccanegra.  It all comes to a head twenty five years later, when the girl shows up, is mistaken by her boyfriend for Boccanegra’s mistress and… Well, there’s a slow-acting poison, some touching reunions and reconciliations and a death scene.  Oh, and some off-stage riots, although I’m not clear why exactly.  As opera plots go, it’s all pretty standard and nothing to worry about.  What matters are the moments of emotion.  These come across clearly and effectively.  There is some very powerful singing indeed.

In the title role, Craig Smith is every inch the statesman and protective father.  His rich baritone conveys authority and warmth.  It’s like being ordered about by a bar of dark chocolate.  Charne Rochford is a strident tenor, which suits Adorno’s impassioned outbursts and anger a little better than his love songs.  Grant Doyle oozes ‘bad guy’ as Paolo but for me the strongest performances of the evening come from Keel Watson as Fiesco, credibly grieving for his dead daughter, and Elizabeth Llewellyn as the long-lost daughter Amelia, who goes through the widest range of emotions and sings them all beautifully.

Samal Blak’s inventive set: planks that can be cleverly reconfigured to suggest different locations, provides an evocative setting without overshadowing the performers.  Lighting direction by Ace McCarron enhances both the mood and the sense of place: There is a gorgeous moment when Boccanegra reminisces about his past, and the stage becomes iridescent, like sunlight catching the tops of ocean waves.  Beautiful.

So while the comings and goings might be a little hard to follow, this is still a superior night at the opera.  English Touring Opera show yet again they are a hallmark of quality and talent.

Reunited and it feels so good. Craig Smith and Elizabeth Llewellyn