|Chorus of Amore Opera's Un Ballo in Maschera |
Not that it has much to do with Verdi's 1859 masterpiece, but the life of the 18th c. King Gustav III of Sweden is fascinating. Not too many people know that he was an enlightened ruler who championed the arts in Sweden and also made his nation the first to recognize The United States. Whether he was a member of the LGBTQ community (as was rumored) is however of no interested to us.
French writer Eugène Scribe wrote a libretto about him in 1833 for an opera by Daniel Auber; it was called Gustave III; 10 years later Saverio Mercadante wrote another entitled Il Reggente. Giuseppe Verdi used Antonio Somma as his librettist to tell the tale and Somma, as was customary in those days, adapted Scribe's libretto. As one might expect, liberties were taken to make the historical account more stage worthy and to provide a romantic interest.
Verdi's opera had a difficult birth. The topic of regicide was considered too fraught and the censors rejected it. After a lengthy legal battle, the story was transported across the Atlantic Ocean to Boston with Gustav replaced by the Governor of Boston called Riccardo. The names of all the characters were changed as well.
In last night's gripping performance by Amore Opera, the work took place in Sweden with the names of the characters retained from the "Boston" version. The performance was completely satisfying for a devotée such ourself, and also compelling for the "noobie" we brought with us. Anytime we win a convert to opera we feel like celebrating. Several rows of the jam packed Riverside Theater were occupied by high school students who seemed similarly captivated.
What made the performance so special can be attributed to Nathan Hull's finely detailed direction and a a triumph of casting. Verdi asks a lot of his singers and these artists rose to the occasion, giving 100%.
As the conflicted King we heard fast-rising tenor José Heredia whose thrilling artistry revealed both vocally and dramatically the dilemma he faced. Here is a ruler who is light-heartedly basking in the adoration of most of his subjects and in denial about the threat posed by some unhappy ones. He is lusting for the wife of his loyal secretary, here called Renato. From his first aria "La rivedrà nell'estasi" we were captivated. The barcarolle he sang whilst pretending to be a fisherman "Di' tu se fedele" truly rocked our boat.
The object of his passion is here called Amelia and the intensity of Aida Carducci's performance matched that of Mr. Heredia. Her lengthy scene at the gallows gave her the opportunity to color her generous voice from terror all the way to a confession of love in response to the King's pleading. Still, it was in the scene in which her husband vents his rage and threatens her life that we witnessed the full range of her vocal power. We were quite moved when she begged to have a last embrace from her child in "Morrò, ma prima in grazia".
The King's secretary and best friend (here called Renato) was performed by the always excellent baritone Robert Garner, who seems to be getting better and better. His rage at his faithless wife was chilling. We were impressed by the change in voice and body when his affection for the King changed to the vengefulness of a betrayed husband.
As the page Oscar, soprano Allegra Durante played an important role throughout and we noticed her fine acting right from the first scene. Her voice was just right for the part and her teasing "Saper vorreste" was in the spirit of French opéra comique, providing just the right setup for the tragedy to follow.
Furthermore we were wowed by Sarah Knott's performance as the witch Ulrica. The mood in that scene was abetted by Lighting Designer Duane Pagano's lighting artistry playing upon Richard Cerullo's set design, not to mention Verdi's sinister music. Her "Re dell'abisso, affrettati" was powerful enough to summon any demon and the final "Silencio" took her to the bottom of her range without difficulty and made us shudder.
The two co-conspirators Samuel and Tom were played by bass Nicholas Hay and baritone Charles Gray with the appropriate degree of nastiness and the sailor who asked Ulrica to tell his fortune was played by baritone Muir Ingliss.
The always excellent chorus was directed by Susan Morton. The orchestra was conducted by Maestro Douglas Martin and we particularly enjoyed the English Horn which accompanied Ms. Carducci's scene at the gallows. The harp made welcome additions to the aural tapestry from time to time--especially during the duet at the gallows; it seduced our ears just as the King seduces Amelia into confessing her love. The percussion was stirring and effective.
There were so many moments of aural bliss too numerous to mention but one stood out; it was the trio at the end of Scene 2 in which the overtones of each voice built on the others and filled the theater with magic.
We love Verdi and we don't get enough of him. It is difficult to find voices hefty enough to sail through the orchestra and also beautiful; we are glad that Mr. Hull was able to find them.
There will be two more performances--one tonight and another Sunday afternoon. If you too love Verdi, get yourself up to Riverside Theater!
(c) meche kroop