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Verdi Un ballo in maschera and Janacek Katya Kabanova

Un ballo in maschera
Amelia Amanda Echalaz
Gustavus Rafael Rojas
Anckarstrom Olafur Sigurdarson
Oscar Gail Pearson
Arvidson Carole Wilson
Count Ribbing Paul Reeves
Count Horn Simon Wilding
Cristian Benedict Nelson

Conductor Peter Robinson
Director Martin Lloyd Evans
Designer Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell
Choreographer Victoria Newlyn

Opera Holland Park, July 23 2009

This opera was Pavarotti's favourite. Unfortunately for its press night at Holland Park, Rafael Rojas had lost his voice and had to mime, with David Rendall singing in the pit...

So we attended what was announced from the stage as being the real first night (Rojas had recovered his voice sufficiently to appear, and sounded pretty good) but we shared with others serious reservations about the production, which for a few minutes had the orchestra drowned by a torrential "shower".

Happy though we were with the transfer to America from Sweden (as Verdi had been forced to do by the Italian censors), Lloyd Evans' updating to the 21st C. was, for us, a step too far.

It is strange that however cavalier a director's notion, the sung text is usually left alone, often incongruously so. Here - q.v. The Stage: "the character names swap between those of the opera’s Swedish and American versions and the page is de-trousered - a woman playing a woman, although her character’s name oddly remains Oscar. The fortune-teller Ulrica has become the star of a reality TV show, destroying the darkly atmospheric music of Act I, Scene II, and there’s a novel approach to chronology when the murderous Renato receives an invitation for that evening’s ball, while on the far side of the screen behind him, guests have been arriving for some time".

It all led to the general fussiness of the production and, irredeemably, the film-shooting gloss on the story, with an on-stage monitor adding enlarged duplicate images of Ulrica not quite the thing "bellowing her fateful prophesies amidst clouds of dry ice whilst taking the odd important call on her mobile" [The Times]. Nor was Amelia "shooting up in a dodgy neighbourhood surrounded by gun-toting drug-dealers leering out of waste bins" [The Guardian] comfortable with Verdi's score...

That there were serious intentions is allowed by Music OMH, but our feelings were reinforced by returning to the fine Pavarotti/Milo/Nucci/Quivar Met DVD, traditional, royally sumptuous and truly satisfying, safe in the fairy-tale world of opera, with nothing to break identification with the operatic reality. Gorgeous, a fine record of Pavarotti as singer and actor, one restoring faith in opera and Verdi.


Katya Kabanova

Anne Sophie Duprels (Soprano)
Anne Mason (Mezzo Soprano)
Patricia Orr (Mezzo Soprano)
Tom Randle (Tenor)
Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts (tenor)
Andrew Rees (Tenor)
Richard Angas (Baritone)

Director Olivia Fuchs [pictured]


City of London Sinfonia & OHP Chorus/Stuart Stratford

Opera Holland Park, July 24 2009

This was a great achievement given the tricky circumstances of OHP in Kensington. The production was in the safe hands of Olivia Fuchs (her wonderful Fidelio is to be revived there next year) whose imagination served for expensive mise-en-scène, and conductor Stuart Stratford, whose varied work has often been noted in these columns (e.g. see Dove's Palace in the Sky).

The cast was well individuated, and the chorus (larger than in some productions - they have little singing to do) represented the crushing rural community, dominated by "petty tyrants who ruin the lives of everyone around them" (Robert Thickesse in the excellent Programme Magazine). Anne Sophie Duprels is totally convincing as the trapped daughter-in-law, and down-trodden wife of the particularly well characterised weakling husband, Tichon, who swigs frm his flask in a vain attept to cope with his dominating mother, Anne Mason - not quite as chilling as some Kabanichas - but doesn't beat her as thoroughly as custom required...

Yannis Thavoris' walk-ways across water (close by the unseen Volga) made sense until the singers came forward onto a blue triangle, neither water nor ice for some crucial exchanges. And the off-stage suicide (too few bars of music for Katya's death by drowning to ever really convince) brings the opera to its too sudden conlcusion as always.

Katya is a compact opera but at c. 100 minutes no shorter than many theatre shows, and never a small experience; to begin it late (8 p.m.) - which some, us included, hadn't noticed - did no favours for patrons dependent on London Transport, but doubtless helped swell bar takings (q.v. Simon Thomas & Mike Volpe on WhatsOnStage.com).

Our evening ended in Greenwich well after 1 a.m.: the bus to central London delayed by Friday night congestion, and our train halted for an hour en route because of a typical Friday night "incident" (a fight requiring the whole paraphernalia of police involvement, the removal of carriages which had become a "crime scene" - and cancellation of the remaining trains on that line for the night)... Despite that, an evening not to miss, and one that brings to a worthy conclusion a good season of country-house opera in the Metropolis.

Peter Grahame Woolf