OperaREVIEWSTom Williams

Un Ballo In Maschera (A Masked Ball)

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

Music by Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto by Antonio Somma,

after Eugene Scribe’s libretto

Directed by Renata Scotto

Conductor: Asher Fisch

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Magnificent voices make A Masked Ball an unforgettable classic opera

From the first few notes of music and libretto it becomes clear that Giuseppe Verdi’s 1859 opera, Un Ball In Maschera (A Masked Ball) is a ‘singer’s opera.’ I’ve not witnessed a fine sung opera than the Lyric Opera’s traditional mounted A Masked Ball.  The 18th Century costumes (designed by John Conklin) complete with powered wigs,  chandeliers and over sized doors tells the story of King Gustavus and his assassination in Stockholm in 1792. Verdi had to do several rewrites due to the Italian censors for the 1859 premiere in Rome but the Lyric Opera’s production is set in Sweden and is about assassinating a king.

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

The story finds King Gustavus (Frank Lopardo) with a group of rebellious nobles led by Count Ribbling (Craig Irvin) and count Horn (Sam Handley). Ocsar (Kathleen Kim), the page, announces the list for the masked ball that includes  Count Anckarstrom [Renato] (Mark Delavan) – the King’s private secretary. Renato’s wife Amelia (Sondra Radvanovsky) is coveted by the King. Gustavus dismisses a conspiracy against himself.

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

When a woman is charged with witchcraft, the King goes incognito to see if she is really a purveyor of evil spirits. Mme. Arvidson ( Stephanie Blythe), the gypsy instructs Amelia to find a magic herb in order for her to lose her passion for the King. Arvidson reads the sailor’s (really the King) palm telling him that he will die by the next hand that he shakes.

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

In the garden, Gustavus declares his love for Amelia in the wonderful duet: Teco io sto. When Anckarstrom arrives, the Kings gets him to escort the veiled unknown lady back to the palace away from the conspirators who are looking for the King. The three sing a moving aria.

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

Act Three finds Anckarstrom confronting Amelia about her love for the King- he condemns her to death. She only want to see her son once more. Renato laments losing his wife and his best friend (the King).  Ribbling and Horn arrive and he requests to be apart of their plot against the King. Once agreement is reached, the three can’t agree as to who will kill the King.  The will draw lots. Oscar arrives with the invite to the masked ball. Amelia enters the room and Renato demands that Amelia pull the name from the cup; she does and Renato is chosen to kill the King. Amelia decides to warn the King.

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

At the ball, Gustavus decides to ignore Amelia’s warning believing that to leave the ball would be seen as cowardice. The King is shot by Anckarstrom. The King forgives Renato, who learns too late about his wife’s innocence.

a masked ball by verdi at the lyric opera chicago

Among the terrifically strong voices in this opera, diminutive Katleen Kim sings her tricky lyrics with gusto. Stephanie Blythe’s contralto haunts while Sondra Radvanovsky’s rich soprano soars. Mark Delavan’s rich bass baritone resonates well but Frank Lopardo’s nicely textured and emotionally deep tenor deftly depicts the Gustavus character. Verdi’s  powerful score swept across the stage challenging the singers to reach down to convey their meanings. I particularly enjoyed the duets, the trios and the four-part harmonies that lifted into the heavens.

A Masked Ball is a traditional classic opera featuring world-class voices, an opulent period-perfect sets and a powerful melodious score. It is an opera lovers treat – just in time for the holidays. It is now one of my favorites.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

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