My opera education continues in the capable hands of Welsh National Opera with Guiseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, only my third WNO production.
Riccardo (Gwyn Hughes Jones) is a leader who has stepped on too many toes, collecting a few enemies hell bent on revenge for the wrongs they feel he has done them. He happens to be in love with Amelia (Mary Elizabeth Williams) who is his right-hand-man Renato’s wife. She feels the same but wants to be honourable so consults psychic Ulrica on how to extinguish her love for Riccardo. Ulrica advises a course of action which sets in motion a chain of events that results in Renato joining the subversives in a bid to assassinate Riccardo.
The murder attempt is to take place during a masked ball, and the final act contains many twists and turns ending in a dramatic closing scene.
This production really was a joy from start to finish, with a technically outstanding and sparklingly charismatic cast of singers. It almost feels a slight to the performers I don’t mention to name individuals, but Gwyn Hughes Jones really has a beautiful tenor voice. Mary Elizabeth Williams was excellent as Amelia, her soprano faultless and her acting powerful. It was a joy to see her beaming as she so obviously but graciously enjoyed taking her bows, absorbing the warmth and applause of the audience. As the gentleman next to us remarked: “you won’t her better soprano singing than that”.
Baritone Roland Wood was fantastic as Renato carrying off some incredibly challenging pieces with aplomb. Effervescent soprano Sara Fulgoni was simultaneously spooky and appealing as Ulrica the fortune teller, and special mention must go to mezzo-soprano Julie Martin du Theil who played pageboy Oscar with great technical ability, humour and charm.
From the prelude to the final note, the orchestra led formidably by Gareth Jones were truly wonderful and even included our national instrument the harp.
Mary Elizabeth Williams
Un ballobeing a melodrama rather than a comedy, the set and costume couldn’t be more different to those of La Cenerentola from WNO’s autumn season.
Set designer Raimund Bauer and costume designer Mari-Jeanne Lecca collaborated well to produce classy and effective set and wardrobe in black with accents of red and gold. Bauer made very clever use of three moving large black panels that were inset with smaller stage fronts of different sizes with gold frames and red curtains. They were strikingly sophisticated and could be used as anything from windows for the characters to protrude from to becoming walls closing in on the characters during a tense scene. The costumes were predominantly black until the ballo un maschero where there were some striking white skeleton outfits and some black, with garlands and collars of colour.
Everything about this production was excellent and offered a highly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Un ballo in maschera has now finished its run but a WNO production of Mozart’s Magic Flute tours April 27-May 11 and Donizetti’s Robert Devereux is in Southampton on May 10.