Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Songs for Nancy: Bampton Classical Opera celebrate legendary soprano, Nancy Storace

Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert on 7th March at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate the legendary soprano Nancy Storace.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.



19 Dec 2014

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Giuseppi Verdi : Un ballo in maschera, Royal O[pera House, London

A review by Anne Ozorio


On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

Although the designs may seem retro, it is as conceptually radical as any minimalist "modern" production. What it demonstrates is that good opera lies not in external decoration but in creative imagination.

This Un ballo in m,aschera also works extremely well because it places full focus on the singing. The drama unfolds through a series of showpieces, providing the singers with opportunities to display their skills. It's perfect for artists like Joseph Calleja and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, both of them highly charismatic personalities. They created Riccardo and Renato as convincing characters, but, perhaps even more unusually, ctreated a powerful dynmaic between themselves as artists.The bond between them felt personal and energizing, and went far further than good singing. They seemed to be challenging each other with evident glee. One star turn after another, carried off with exuberance. Calleja's natural warmth suffused his portrayal of Riccardo, adding elements of good nature and good humour, which go a long way in overcoming the weaknesses in the plot. Calleja doesn't need to act in a naturalistic fashion: he makes you feel that under the costume beats the heart of a sturdy, ardent Maltese tenor.

This is very much a "singer's opera" so the other parts are also strongly cast. Liudmyla Monastyrska. sang Amelia, over whom Riccardo and Renato fall out. There isn't much character development for the part in the libretto, so Monastyrska fills it out with the feminine timbre of her singing. Serena Gamberoni, as Oscar, Riccardo's page, was impressive. She replaced Rosemary Joshua, who is unwell, but has put her own individual stamp on the role, When Gamberoni sings the "laughter" passages, her voice sparkles with agility and energy. Anatoli Sivko sang Samuel and Jihoon Kim sang Tom. It's interesting how little background detail the score gives about the parts, but Siv ko and Kim sang with such clear conviction that the roles had genuine conviction. They felt like parrallel versions of Renato and Riccardo. Marianne Cornetti sings Ulrica, a delicious part that must be fun to sing. .

Katharina Thoma directed Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos for Glyndebourne in 2013. Read my analysis here. On a superficial level, this Un ballo in maschera and Ariadne auf Naxos might seem very different, but Thoma is far too adept to be doing a sudden change of style. Ariadne auf Naxos is a satire on the making of an opera, juxtaposing the "reality" of the players and the opera they are contracted to take part in. In Un ballo in maschera, Thoma balances the "reality" of cast and staging with the way they are used to create performance. The acting is stylised by modern standards, but that fits the meticulously archaic use of stage equipment. At one point, stagehands fold up the flats we've just been admiring: art and artifice at once.

This studied theatricality pays off brilliantly in the scene where Amelia goes to the graveyard to consult Ulrica, the soothsayer. This is a glorious bit of Gothic High Camp, with graves, urns, weeping willows and statues that come alive to dance. Verdi's libretto was an adaptation of a play by Eugene Scribe. Hence the similarity to Scribe's libretto for Meyerbeer Robert le Diable. Horror movies entertain when they're so bad, they're good. Part of the fun is the frisson of implausibility. After the performance, I bumped into someone whose taste in opera is impeccable. He was delighted: "Funny, yet not offensive". Thoma's Un ballo in maschera is a lot more subversive - and thoughtful - than meets the eye. Audiences who hate anything modern on principle will love this production, but will its subtle satire be lost on other audiences?

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):