Monday, January 21, 2013

A MASKED BALL


By Giuseppe Verdi
Opera Australia – Sydney Opera House until February 12th 2013
Performance 16th January 2013 reviewed by Bill Stephens
Jose Carbo as Count Ankarstrom-Diego Torre as Gustav 111
Taryn Fiebig as Oscar  - The Opera Australia Chorus

Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

What a bleak totalitarian world King Gustav 111 and his minions inhabit in this extraordinary  vision of a futuristic Orwellian world imagined by Director Alex  Olle and designers Alfons Flores and Lluc Castells for this arresting production, which was  given its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House by Opera Australia .
The sensuous images of nude male body parts projected over the overture set up an entirely different expectation to the bleak world revealed at curtain rise. Tall concrete corridors, silent lifts ascending and descending, and computer imagery, inhabited by dehumanised, blue- suited men and women, distinguished from each other only by numbers stencilled on their backs. All wear masks, not the glamorous sequined variety worn on opening night by some of the audience, but identical fleshy affairs which cover head and face leaving only eyes and mouths exposed.  The only exception is the King, who wears a shiny silver metal mask. Later in the opera, two of the principal characters tear off their masks to reveal their true selves. Otherwise, the audience has to rely on vocal differences to differentiate between characters. It says something of the power of the writing, and the clarity of the staging, that this was not as difficult as it sounds.  
Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” is based on real events surrounding the assassination of King Gustov 111 of Sweden during a masked ball in the eighteenth century.  The time and place of events were changed to satisfy nervous censors, therefore, though this current setting may upset those expecting lavish ball gowns and gilt ballrooms, it works surprising well in serving the storyline, the  intent of the opera and by focussing attention on Verdi’s brilliantly descriptive score.
Tamar Iveri as Amelia - Diego Torre as King Gustav 111
Photo:Prudence Upton

The action centres on the King’s attempts to seduce Amelia, the wife of his loyal secretary, Count Ankarstrom.  However, when Ankarstrom learns of the affair between Amelia and the King, he joins a conspiracy planned by courtiers to assassinate the King. 

During the masked ball he persuades Oscar, the King’s young pageboy, to reveal the identity of the king, whom he then stabs. Before dying however, the King reveals that his love for Amelia was unrequited, and forgives his assassin and the conspirators. 

Tama Iveri as Amelia - Jose Carbo as Ankarstrom
Photo: Prudence Upton
 Each making their role debuts in this opera, soprano, Tamar Iveri as Amelia, tenor, Diego Torre as King Gustav, and baritone Jose Carbo as Ankarstrom are quite simply sensational, vocally and dramatically.  Each possesses a splendid voice as well as the ability to soar thrillingly above the huge orchestra and chorus when required. Despite the masks, the dramatic intensity each brings to their character, quickly grips the audience imagination drawing them inexorably into the action.
Taryn Fiebig, as the pageboy Oscar, also sings brilliantly while investing her character with a welcome lightness without sacrificing any of the dramatic intensity.  Another special pleasure of this production is the haunting, rich voice of Mariana Pentcheva, as the fortune-teller Ulrica,  who provides an unforgettable interlude as she foretells the events which are about to transpire. In lesser roles Richard Anderson, Andrew Brunsdon and Jud Arthur each lend solid dramatic and vocal support.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Verdi opera without the huge orchestra and chorus, and for this production, Maestro Andrea Molino, has at his disposal the huge Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and the Opera Australia chorus from whom he confidently coaxes a very stylish, impressive performance of one of Verdi’s most luscious scores,to put the seal on a memorable, exciting and challenging night of opera.  

Diego Torre as King Gustav 111 - Jose Carbo as Count Ankarstrom
Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

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