Un Ballo in Maschera at Grange Park Opera
In one of Verdi’s most frustrating experiences, this opera commissioned by Naples in 1857, was actually premiered in Rome in 1859. The original score underwent significant transformations as a result of censorship regulations in both Naples and Rome and the disturbing political situation in France in 1858. The plot concerns the assassination in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden, who was killed as the result of a political conspiracy against him. He was shot while attending a masked ball.
Due to censorship, the action in the original production was located in Boston during the British colonial period. However, from the mid-20th century it has become more common for the setting to revert to its original 18th century Stockholm location.
There are numerous recordings, but perhaps the most complete performance is recognised as the 1975 Muti recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and the chorus of the Royal Opera House, with a cast including Domingo, Arroyo, Cappuccilli, Grist and Cossotto.
Grange Park Opera have asked Stephen Medcalf to direct a new production with the orchestra of the English National Opera under the baton of Gianluca Marciano. Medcalf cleverly used the framework of Grange Park’s set for Die Walkure last summer as the centrepiece for this production. This worked quite well with the hallway of a colonial home giving sufficient space for the larger scenes with the whole company and intimacy being restored by rolling smaller sets onto the stage to reflect the various scene changes. With the action set in Boston in this production the opening act with all the American flags was impressive and the costumes designed by Nicky Shaw were always correct and to the point. The only downside was the use of the indoor set in Act 2 when the action was taking place outside on the outskirts of the town at a gallows-place.
The evening was controlled musically by the Italian Conductor, Gianluca Marciano, who has just been announced as the Chief Conductor of the Serbian National Theatre of Novi Sad. He was fortunate to have under his control the orchestra of the ENO and a wonderful company chorus and the authority shown by the Conductor enabled the audience to enjoy a well-paced performance of real quality.
The singing however was slightly mixed. The Amelia of Claire Rutter and the Oscar of Armenian born soprano, Tereza Gevorgyan, were both outstanding and provided real interest and pathos to the evening’s proceedings. Roland Wood as Renato did the same with a really outstanding baritone performance. The tenor of the Riccardo, Vincenzo Costanzo, produced a ringing sound and notes, but on a number of occasions his pitch wobbled slightly, which affected his interpretation. The Ulrica of the deep mezzo soprano, Elisabetta Fiorillo, whilst being of real substance, occasionally sounded slightly worn.
However, overall a really entertaining evening at the ‘Theatre in the Woods’ with swish new loos for all to enjoy!