* Notes *
A Washington National Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera opened the new season in San Francisco under the direction of Gina Lapinski. Entirely traditional in set and costume design, it was a spectacle quite pleasing to the eye with much Louis XIV splendor. There are six scenes but only one intermission, so it was no mean feat having nearly each one rather different than the next. The least fleshed-out scene is Act III Scene 2, when Gustavus is musing in his quarters before the ball. A black screen simply hides the upstage, and a desk and chair are downstage. The last scene emerges when Commedia dell'arte characters dance out and pretend to lift the screen, revealing the splendid hall with a balcony on the upper floor and large chandeliers.
Marco Armiliato did not seem to have complete control of the orchestra, they seemed just slightly off from the singers, particularly in the first act. The singers were all reasonably good, though of course, Deborah Voigt stands out, as her voice has a good deal of volume and command. Her voice is not flashy, but elegant and solid. It may not be worth mentioning, but Ms. Voigt had gastric bypass surgery and went from a size 28 to a size 14. A few years ago her contract with the Royal Opera, London was canceled because their production of Ariadne auf Naxos involved a little black dress that they felt would not work on Ms. Voigt. Her surgery, thankfully, has not ruined her voice.
Other fine singing came from soprano Anna Christy, who made a trim and dashing Oscar. Her bird-like voice has a charming effervescence. Former Adler Fellow Joshua Bloom sang well as the Count Ribbing. Bloom has had six roles at San Francisco Opera in the last two years, and I look forward to hearing him in a larger role soon. Current Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu also shows promise as the sailor Christian.
None of the four singers who made their San Francisco Opera debuts with Un Ballo were terribly striking. Tenor Marcus Haddock (Gustavus III) was slightly quiet and reedy; baritone Ambrogio Maestri (Anckarström) was lackluster at times. Mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn may have produced fireballs on stage as Madame Arvidson, and though her voice does not lack fire, her singing was a bit rough and gasping. The other Adler Fellow, Jeremy Galyon, was adequate as Count Horn, but did not make a strong impression.
This is the first production of Un Ballo I have managed to see. In 2003, I had a ticket to this opera in Munich, but instead went to Venice for a few weeks. Verdi's 21st opera is based on an incident in 1792. For the premiere in Rome, Verdi was obliged to change the names of the characters and set the opera in colonial Boston instead of 18th century Stockholm. The music often has simultaneous elements of tragedy and comedy, to great effect, as seen in the finale of Act II, "Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa." The conspirators Ribbing and Horn think they've discovered Anckarström's assignation with his own wife, while Anckarström mistakenly believes that his wife and Gustavus have had a tryst. The jesting of Ribbing and Horn as Anckarström vows revenge and Amelia grieves makes for a distressing irony.
* Tattling *
The side supertitles have been removed this season and are replaced by four small screens under the boxes so the titles are nearly unavoidable. The new general director is has also concerned himself with the length of the performances, he favors early curtain times during the week, and fewer intermissions. The sentiment is a fine one, however, many people were arrived late and naturally they chattered in standing room during the first scene. During the September 13th performance I heard no less than three cell phones, one of these was from a latecomer right next to me. The audience this day was quite absurd in other ways, they applauded when Deborah Voigt made her entrance midway in Act I Scene 2, before she had sung a note. Perhaps they did not notice she is billed last in the program, as the cast is listed by vocal appearance. They also clapped for the scenery of the last scene, the ball room. In addition, they giggled at the supertitles for Madame Arvidson's line "Perchè possa rispondere a voi è d'uopo che innanzi m'abbocchi a Satàno." Apparently reading the word "Satan" is simply hilarious, for this happened at the September 20th performance as well.