We’re in the thick of opera season. Yesterday, we caught the live performance of Verdi’s The Masked Ball at the Lyric. It’s got to be one of my favorite operas. I love the plot, the music, and the arias. We had an absolutely stellar cast: Stephanie Blythe as Ulrica; Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia; Frank Lopardo as Gustavus; Mark Delavan as Renato; and Kathleen Kim as Oscar. It was almost heart wrenching to hear the duets between Gustavus and Amelia, and later between Renato and Amelia.
WSJ’s review of The Masked Ball:
“Un Ballo in Maschera” (1859) is middle-period Verdi, full of great tunes and even some character development. Lyric Opera delivered the tunes, but director Renata Scotto’s production was prosaic in the extreme. Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma originally set the opera in Sweden, inspired by the 1792 assassination of King Gustavus III at a masked ball, but the Italian censors, nervous about an actual royal murder, forced its relocation to colonial Boston. Modern productions come in both settings. Lyric’s was in Sweden, though the baritone is still referred to as Renato and the fortuneteller as Ulrica, since “Count Anckarström” and “Mme. Arvidson” are tough names to sing in Italian. In any case, the generic, uncredited sets (from the San Francisco Opera) didn’t add much local color, though John Conklin’s brocade frock coats for Gustavus’s courtiers offered hints.
Ms. Scotto, a famous soprano in her day, appears to feel that an opera director’s job is to stay out of the way of the singers. The chorus lined up in a V-shape around the set and the singers stood and delivered. When she did try something fancy, it backfired—Gustavus (Frank Loprado), shot by his best friend, Renato (Mark Delavan), was dying, cradled by Oscar (Kathleen Kim), his adoring page, but he kept trying to get up to sing more perorations, and was finally heaved into a throne to expire. This drew laughs from the audience.
Fortunately, Lyric fielded an admirable quintet of Verdi singers. Mr. Lopardo brought a penetrating, flexible tenor to Gustavus, the playful king who mistakenly and fatally assumes that everyone adores him. Sondra Radvanovsky’s metallic but well-disciplined soprano fervently expressed the anguish of Amelia, Renato’s wife, who loves Gustavus but refuses to give in to her feelings. As Renato, baritone Mark Delavan sounded pinched and dry at first, but opened up in the stentorian moments of his Act III aria when he expressed his fury at Gustavus, whom he thinks has seduced his wife. (Nothing actually happened, just a lot of mutual yearning, but Renato doesn’t know that.) Mezzo Stephanie Blythe brought a nuanced richness to Ulrica, who predicts Gustavus’s murder at the hand of a friend. Ms. Kim was brightly perky as the page Oscar, who doesn’t realize what the stakes are. Asher Fisch’s conducting grew progressively more interesting, catching the sweep of the Verdian melodies in the big lyrical moments and helping the singers carry the show.
Tonight, we tried to catch the Metropolitan Opera’s encore streaming of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, starring soprano Anna Netrebko, tenor Matthew Polenzani, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien and bass-baritone John Del Carlo. Tried, being the operative word, because the terrible storm overhead in New York created havoc on the satellites. The opera kept cutting out, and finally, right before the final garden scene, management apologized and said they couldn’t continue the streaming. 😦 We did get free tickets to the next streaming, but I was very disappointed. Anna’s portrayal of Norina was gut-bustlingly funny; and frankly so was John’s Don Pasquale. The plot was the complete opposite of Verdi’s Masked Ball – nobody died, and the mood stayed exceedingly light-hearted from start to finish (well, I didn’t catch the finale, but I can bet it’ll be a laugh). I’ve got to catch the finale sometime… and not just any other production, but I really want to see how this cast dishes it out at the end!
And oh, to accompany the brilliant comedy, we broke out a bottle of the Duckhorn Decoy Zinfandel 2008. I drank it from a small glass (didn’t want to risk bringing our huge crystal glass to the theatre hehe), and so couldn’t really get a good sniff of the nose, but it tasted of strawberry jam with a hint of spice. 🙂