Touring – review at The Lowry, Salford
Guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Opera North closed its residency at the Lowry Theatre with Un ballo in maschera, rated as one of Verdi’s best creations. However, the UK’s relationship with the tragedy has been rather dramatic over the past decade after stagings in London were met with little praise. This is Opera North’s first production of the piece and a rather successful first draft.
The heart of the story follows King Gustavo and his doomed love triangle involving his most loyal friend, and his wife. King Gustavo is painted as a free-thinking, open-minded, kind-hearted and popular ruler. However, what makes him so is not explored. Likewise, the motivations of the conspirators out to murder him are vague – even upon revelation they have little impact and no footing which could prove either confusing or distancing to the audience.
Hannah Clark’s set is vast, its enormity further amplified by the lack of furniture, very sterile or dark in some cases. The sets and costumes melt together – dusty grey three-piece suits, belted macs, and homburg hats taking the characters away from a particular time or place. Dated, but not bound to a date.
Opera North has chosen to adopt Verdi’s original version of the text, based upon the assassination of Gustav III of Sweden at a masked ball in Stockholm. I expected that the presence of a masked ball would ramp up the dramatics of the third act, but despite the striking plum costumes, powdered white faces and wigs, its climax feels underwhelming.
Anything but underwhelming is Richard Farnes’ conducting. The former music director for Opera North makes a welcome return delivering a score laced with fragility and drama.
Tereza Gevorgyan gave a stellar performance as Oscar, providing very much needed light comedy in a bleak narrative. Equally as good was Phillip Rhodes who plays the role of Count Anckarström, a loyal friend turned husband hell-bent on revenge. His portrayal is weighted heavily with warmth, which I feel Rhodes struggled to shake off to convey convincing malice.
Patricia Bardon brought fortune-teller Ulrica to life, complete with beret and neck scarf. Bardon is considered a rarity these days, a true contralto. Adrienn Miksch plays the role of torn Amelia excellently, her voice intense and wide-ranging.