Un Ballo in Maschera, Sydney Opera House Gala
Wed 20th Feb 2008
This old production serves Verdi well yet it has some particularly odd ideas. The fortune teller arrives on the same throne as Gustavus, slightly camouflaged by some black silk on its second coming, and with orange electric ‘eyes’ (‘la sua pupilla’). The king reuses it for the patriotic chorus seeing out act I, scene 2. He had commanded the clothing of a fisherman and yet we find him in a sailor’s tunic, replete with brass buttons. What were they thinking?
But most of us go to the opera for the voices, so this is all small criticism when great things were happening vocally. The chorus and the tenor were the stars of this performance and they were well supported. Dennis O’Neill sang the difficult regal role with flair and aplomb - his voice seems to get more secure each passing year that we are fortunate to hear him in Sydney. Natalie Jones sounds a bit light-weight as the page, but her quick-fire response arias were accurate and effective. Nicole Youl was at her quite considerable limits as Amelia and this dramatic type of role seems to be an appropriate direction for her career currently.
Michael Lewis sang Anckestroem with his usual conviction, power and baritone beauty. He restored a few notes at the end of his first act aria and performed ‘Eri tu’ to a rousing ovation, richly deserved. With his wife playing Amelia we will have to be careful of the nickname “Mr and Mrs Opera”.
Bernadette Cullen is most comfortable in the roles of witches, bitches and sisters. Ulrica suits her range and she was suitable entranced as the fortune teller who is crucial to the plot. She interacted with the chorus superbly in her scene, singing her cauldron aria with gravitas. The chorus and their coach deserve particular commendation for their continued brilliant team work, providing the backing and framework needed for such fine quality opera to happen.
Andrea Licata conducted the superb Opera and Ballet Orchestra in a careful reading of this wonderful mature Verdi work. They received a chorus of ‘bravos’ from the audience in their traditional acknowledgement before the last act.
All in all a rich operatic experience, reminding us of how lucky we are to have such a professional company in Australia.