10 December 2012

Un Ballo in Maschera

Last month I went to the Met to see a new production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. I knew nothing about the opera but wanted the chance to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Un Ballo in Maschera opens In the Swedish court of King Gustavo II who is in love with Amelia, the wife of his trusted secretary Count Anckarström. An incognito visit to Madame Arvisson, a fortuneteller, has Gustavo receiving the message that he will die at the hand of a friend. Later, he and Amelia meet and declare their mutual love but the arrival of Anckarström with news about conspirators causes Gustavo to depart and leave the veiled Amelia behind with her unknowing husband. When a threatened fight with the conspirators causes Amelia to fear for her husband’s safety she reveals her identity. Hurt by what he sees as betrayal by his wife and Gustavo, Anckarström first threatens to kill Amelia before deciding to kill Gustavo instead. At a masked ball at the palace, Gustavo tells Amelia that he is sending her and Anckarström away to Finland but it is too late. Anckarström shoots Gustavo who tells him that is wife is innocent before dying.

Un Ballo in Maschera can at times feel like a splintered opera, jumping from comedic moments led by the androgynous page, Oscar, played here by Kathleen Kim, to darker, serious moments. The set design didn’t help clarify this feeling. A large, classical image of Icarus dominated the backdrop while the sparse set had a modernistic, film noir look that never felt quite right.

Yet while I may not have loved the set or some of the choreography, I had no complaints about the singing. Marcelo Álvarez as Gustavo and Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia both gave strong performances, bringing conviction to their roles while my favourite, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, was brilliant as Anckarström. The scene where he threatens to kill Amelia was a high point, showing off not just his singing but his acting skills as well. But it was Stephanie Blythe, appearing as the fortuneteller in only one scene, who seemed to blow everyone away. I’ve seen her before and she’s absolutely incredible.

On this trip I sat in the balcony, front row (very comfortable), and enjoyed a lovely conversation with my seatmates during the intermissions. I think I may be falling in love with going to the opera.

There's only one more performance of Un Ballo in Maschera left, December 14. To find out more about the rest of the season, visit here.

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