Theatre in Wales

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LOVE, LIFE, DEATH AMD VIRTUOSITY !

Un Ballo in Maschera

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , February-09-19
Un Ballo in Maschera by Welsh National Opera The well-deserved warmth of the welcome to the return the company’s Conductor Laureate, Carlo Rizzi indicated that the packed audience was ready for a good time. The great fun that they found in the first half of this tale belies its ending at the masked ball. It is described as a melodrama!
The chorus, in fine voice but it is the skipping as they dance around the stage that’s set the deceptive happy atmosphere.

Under Rizzi’s baton the WNO orchestra plays Verdi’s prelude to the opera sweeping us through the rise and fall of the narrative with an excellent musicality that continues throughout, bringing us some outstanding harp towards the tragic end.

Audiences have been able to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful voice of Gwyn Hughes Jones at the Welsh National Opera, where he began his career, since 1995. The lead male role, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera is a big one. From the outset, Jones gives us a wonderful, big performance. He rejoices in the knowledge that the name of the woman he loves, Amelia, the wife of his friend and advisor, Renato, Count Anckarström is on the guest list for the masked ball. He expresses his delight in his opening aria and his ringing tenor voice wraps itself around the large Donald Gordon auditorium and our spines start to tingle.

He has been given the list by his page Oscar. Oscar is given a totally captivating and delightful performance by Swiss-French born soprano Julie Martin du Theil. She continues to sparkle even in some of the darkest moments.

When Renato, Roland Wood, arrives, with his excellent and warm baritone, another great and moving voice. He is anxious to warn Riccardo of a plot to kill him but Riccardo dismisses this.

We become aware that a complaint has been made against Ulrica, the fortune-teller known as Madame Arvidson). Sara Fulgoni gives her an air of mystery but her singing does need to be a little stronger.

At Ulrica’s residence Riccardo finds that Amelia is visiting the fortune-teller. He hears her tell Amelia if she finds a herb it will bring peace to her heart. Mary Elizabeth Williams, an American soprano sings beautifully and acts very convincingly, a performance of sheer delight.

When Riccardo asks for his fortune to be told, she tells him he will be killed by the next man who shakes his hand. He meets Renato who shakes his hand in greeting.

The stage is set. There is a plot to kill Riccardo. Things move quickly on to the masked ball. This is departing Artistic Director David Pountney’s final production for the company. He succeeds with his set and costume designers, Raimund Bauer and Marie-Jeanne Lecca to give us a visually exotic experience. The ever-changing scarlet walls and the skeletal costumes all enhance the atmosphere of this dramatic narrative. As things draw to a close Renato does stab Riccardo.

Gwyn Hughes Jones’ wonderful tenor voice has remained at full power throughout the performance. Only now does it weaken as he lies dying, quietly asserting Amelia’s virtue and forgiving his enemies.

A wonderful evening of great singing and great music, asserting the power that great opera can have and the great performances that the WNO continually gives us.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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