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13.9.10

Opening Night Verdi


Salvatore Licitra (Gustavus III, in foreground), Tamara Wilson (Amelia), Luca Salsi (Anckarström), and Julien Robbins (Count Horn) in Un Ballo in Maschera, Washington National Opera, 2010 (photo by Scott Suchman)

Online score:
Verdi, Un ballo in maschera
The Washington National Opera opened their season Saturday evening with Verdi’s dramatic Un Ballo in Maschera. Following WNO General Director Plácido Domingo’s welcome and the National Anthem, the overture began darkly, in a temperament similar to the opera’s regicidal end. The work begins and ends in Swedish King Gustavus III’s palace parlor as stage director James Robinson, true to Verdi’s desires, reversed the constraints of Italian censors by setting the opera in 18th-century Sweden, instead of the Boston Colonial Governor’s Mansion as was demanded for the 1859 premiere.

Though full of gorgeous musical moments and flowery verbiage, such as “Rescue me from my love for you,” the production lacked cohesiveness. Tenor Salvatore Licitra's blazing instrument, as King Gustavus III, boasted Hummer-like impact yet handled like a Hummer being sped through old Roman streets by someone used to driving a Maserati. An uncontrolled voice, no matter how big and commanding, will seldom melt hearts, particularly when out of tune and with somewhat awkward phrasing. These shortcomings allowed the intensity of baritone Luca Salsi, in Count Anckarström’s relationship with his wife Amelia (soprano Tamara Wilson), to supersede that of the King’s requited infatuation with Amelia. Furthermore, the Count and Amelia sang with a refined, effortless expressiveness that did not require them to strain.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Washington National Opera's 'Un Ballo in Maschera' (Washington Post, September 13)

Terry Ponick, Verdi’s 'Masked Ball' opens WNO season (Washington Times, September 12)

Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger [The Reliable Source], Elena Kagan makes her social debut as a Supreme Court justice at the Opera Ball (Washington Post, September 13)
The blind fortuneteller Ulrica (mezzo Elena Manistina), singing with frightening veracity and control, predicted the King’s fate to him personally. Not only was Ulrica rebuked by the King pompously that “I would happily die for my country,” she was molested and murdered with less due process than a Salem witch. The King’s page, Oscar (soprano Micaëla Oeste), innocently provided colorful musical beauty, while the capable chorus helped reinforce the plot and principals, albeit at times ragged due to conductor Daniele Callegari’s tendency to ram brisk tempos uncomfortably through the eye of the needle. More care should have been given to the singers when Callegari would arrogantly flail ahead with the orchestra nearly being on board and the singers regularly left in the dust.

The clever set (designed by Allen Moyer) had a palatial parlor break apart to become the underworld, and Robinson's staging produced effective moments of trio singing with the chorus. Yet creative stagecraft could not overcome the disappointment of catching sight of the drearily uniform gowns, suits, and masks for the ball (designed by James Schuette) in the final scene of the murder. During a painfully slow death, the King intensely sang to pardon his murderer, which showed Licitra at his best dramatically and musically. The audience, no matter how relieved to be back in the Kennedy Center Opera House after a long summer, was sluggish to stand in praise of this production.

This production of Un Ballo in Maschera will be repeated on September 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22, and 25, with next weekend's matinee (September 19, 2 pm) being simulcast for the free screening at Nationals Stadium known as Opera in the Outfield.

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