Reviewed by Anne Durrell
Giuseppe Verdi ‘s Un ballo in maschera is an opera in three acts inspired by the assassination in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden. In real life the king was shot after a political conspiracy against during a masked ball.
Opera North’s production is set in the original 18th-century Stockholm location. The tale tells of the Kings love affair with Amelia, the wife of his best friend and protector Anckarstroem. Already the subject of a conspiracy against him, once the affair is unveiled, his friend allies with the Kings enemies. The opera comes to its conclusion during a masked ball where Anckarstroem takes revenge on his former friend.
Opera North’s production is set in Sweden, as per the original and appears to be around WW2. The stage design is impressive however with all the cast dressed in near identical grey mafiasque suits it is hard to identify those plotting against Gustavo during Act 1. Once I had worked out the baddies were sat on the same sofa it made more sense. Rafael Rojas’s King Gustavo was not dressed regally or as a military chief and so is similarly hard to initially identify until he comes to front of stage.
After the chief justice demands the banishment of the fortune teller Ulrica, we join the cast at some kind of 1940’s dive bar, where we meet the Ulrica, Patricia Bardon, whose voice and presence certainly captures the audience. I am not sure of her attire, less fortune teller and more Madonna in her Dick Tracey phase circa 1990.
In Act 2 we get to hear Adrienn Miksch’s Amelia whose voice is beautiful to listen too, although the strange plant taking centre stage was not really needed. I am sure they could have represented the herb more tastefully. Phillip Rhodes gave a solid performance as Anckarstroem, I believed in his true loyalty to the king and felt his betrayal on discovering his wife’s clandestine meeting with the king.
The final act at the ball was slightly strange to me. I was expecting a masked ball, but it was staged with the company on sofas. Masks had been replaced by white face paint which seemed to vary in intensity across the cast which was quite strange.
The constant across the performance is the beautiful and flawless music from the orchestra as conducted by Richard Farnes. I enjoyed the performance throughout however would not rate it more than enjoyable.
For other shows at The Lowry in Manchester visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000