Un Ballo in Maschera, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2018Posted on 23 June 2018
In staging Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera about the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, the first decision is whether to set it in its originally intended milieu or follow Verdi, compelled by the censors to avoid a regicide on stage. As a result he set it in America with Gustav as Riccardo, governor of Boston. Stephen Medcalf’s fine production for Grange Park Opera does likewise, avoiding the historical misrepresentation of the king in this story — a wise choice.
The fixed set by Jamie Vartan allows insertions for two scenes, one in the first act where Riccardo visits the fortune-teller Ulrica, the other in the final act where Renato threatens to kill his wife Amelia and ends up joining the conspirators. It otherwise serves all the varied scenes, helped by David Plater’s subtle lighting, but what really made this a huge success was superb singing and the wonderful musical clarity of the English National Opera orchestra under Gianluca Marciano.
As Riccardo, young Italian tenor Vincenzo Costanzo was a revelation with his ringing tone and glorious top notes. Born in 1991, his vocal career just beginning, Costanzo is clearly a man to watch, and this was a terrific performance. As his confidant and later murderer Renato, Roland Wood inhabited the role well as the underling until fury at his wife’s betrayal propelled him to a magnificent Act III aria deservedly cheered by the audience. Wonderfully convincing as his wife Amelia, Claire Rutter sang a hugely powerful soprano, and the vibrant presence of Armenian soprano Tereza Gevorgyan as Oscar the page delightfully emphasised the lighter side of life.
As the fortune-teller Ulrica, Elisabetta Fiorillo’s mezzo gave depth to her warnings about darker forces, and the quality of her coloratura gave her Act I appearance the feeling that this is opera. Trevor Bowes produced a nice vignette as the sailor in that scene, wittily remaining in character for the curtain calls, and Matthew Buswell and Matthew Stiff sang with carefully controlled strength as the conspirators Samuel and Tom.
The chorus sang and moved beautifully and the colour and vivacity of the ball scene provided just the right amount of confusion. A straightforward production illuminating the drama of Verdi’s opera with terrific orchestral playing and musical control under the baton of Gianluca Marciano.
Performances continue on various dates until July 5 — for details click here.