Review: Un Ballo In Maschera
words by Stuart Martin
Alison Langer as Oscar with members of the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Un ballo in maschera at Opera Holland Park. Photo by Ali Wright
Opera Holland Park is an opera house marquee that gets rebuilt every year for their summer season right inside Holland Park. It’s the only opera summer opera festival in London and as they rebuild every single year, the equipment and everything else gets better each year too. The one downside to the ‘opera house’ that I have is that whilst there is a roof so if it rains you won’t get, some of the sides are always open so it can get quite cold, so dress warm!
Verdi’s Un Ballo In Machera (the Masked Ball) is based on real life events in Sweden of the murder of King Gustav III, but due to significant political pressure was amended and edited a bit. The story is about the King Gustav who is in love with his best friend’s wife, she loves him too but tries to forget his love so she can stay faithful, leading to tragic events.
In this new production there is a long wooden box like structure that can open up to the width of the stage, change size etc, it’s a useful prop to base things around and is a good fit for every scene, except one: when Amelia goes off to the woods to find some ingredients to forget love she ends up doing it in this production in a hospital, getting injected and running in to a lot of people there and no one being surprised, it’s this that takes the viewer away from enjoying the opera to the sense of this is ridiculous, it could have also been easily remedied as the main set is made of wood.
The costumes were good and well done, what I disliked about the production was the overacting of some, Madame Arvidson has a couple of non-speaking helpers who distracted a lot whilst on stage by making a lot of odd expressions and actions- looking in ecstasy when holding her cigarette for instance. The choreography was brilliant and the orchestra were great under the baton of Matthew Kofi Waldren.
There is a fantastic cast assembled here: Matteo Lippi as Gustavo and Anne Sophie Duprels as Amelia give brilliant leading performances, their strength, their diction, the ability, particularly Lippi’s of reaching both ends of the register perfectly was amazing. Alison Langer as Oscar was also a delight, every time she came on stage she stole the show, particularly in the latter half.
There is a wonderful small cameo performance that for me, really stood out- Ross Ramgobin as Cristiano, a soldier whom Gustavo secretly makes his dreams come true, is both a brilliant actor and some of the best singing of the night. There were a couple of disappointments- Rosalind Plowright as Madame Arvidson just didn’t have the voice for the role, she was overwhelmed by the orchestra, as was George von Bergen as Anckarström who at points presented clearly and strongly but was also overwhelmed.
Overall, Un ballo in maschera is a triumph, the music and performances are generally sublime with some truly fantastic performances here, this is one opera not to be missed.
Find out more about Opera Holland Park's production here.