Review: Un ballo in maschera (West Horsley Place)
Grange Park Opera's second season at its new Surrey home opens with Verdi's A Masked Ball
The Walküre gang's back and they've brought the set with them. The creatives behind last year's creditable slice of Wagner have reassembled at Grange Park Opera's Surrey home to stage Verdi's melodrama of Swedish jealousy and royal assassination, although they've chosen to do it in the opera's regnally cleansed American transposition. Thus, while the female names remain unchanged, King Gustavo and Count Anckarström are now rechristened Riccardo and Renato – a fine pair of Anglo-Saxon monikers.
Un ballo in maschera is the one about a tenor who loves a soprano who's married to a baritone. (As they all seem to be.) Furtive desire, noble restraint, over-reaction at catching your wife in delicto of nothing particularly flagrante, then a crime passionnel to wrap things up… it's red-blooded Verdi to the last capillary. The only way to perform Ballo is to commit to its excesses, and this admirable cast does that wholeheartedly.
Two familiar British names give knock-'em'-dead performances. Baritone Roland Wood has never sounded better than here as Renato, and he handles the shift from comrade to killer with the subtlest shading of his dark vocal hues. His wife and victim Amelia is in the safe hands of Claire Rutter, a fine spinto singer who's often the grande dame but here projects emotional vulnerability with ravishing beauty and superb control.
Haloed in dignity amid the star-spangled banners of Jamie Vartan's American designs is the Riccardo of Vincenzo Costanzo, a 27 year-old Naples thoroughbred with the qualities of a world-class tenor in the making. If his voice doesn't yet quite ring out with a golden peal it's certainly getting there, and he has the measure of Ballo's taxing star role. It's an impressive UK debut from a talent to watch. The young tenor's fellow Neapolitan Elisabetta Fiorillo, for her part, sings fruitily as the satanic soothsayer Ulrica, her vibrato appropriately generous for one of those oracles it's always wiser not to consult.
Marvels arose from the orchestra pit as the English National Opera Orchestra made its GPO debut under the assured baton of Gianluca Marciano while onstage a sturdy chorus, neither its name nor director listed in the programme book as far as I can ascertain, delivered richly idiomatic support.
While it makes sound economic sense to reuse an expensive adaptable set, it still needs to be fit, as they say, for purpose. And while Vartan's curved room with gallery and twin staircases fits the framing scenes to a T (the first is set in a formal palace chamber, the last at a masked ball), director Stephen Medcalf's solution for the second act's gallows-tree location is to bounce a few symbolic nooses down the indoor middle. Since he stages everything else is his Ballo for realism, including carefully dressed trucks as Ulrica's lair and Renato's study, it's scenically inconsistent to dip into the semi-abstract for this one sequence.
There is another oddity in Medcalf's decision to characterise Oscar, the Boston governor's pageboy-cum-secretary, as a rootin'-tootin' yee-haw cowboy. As if. It's a silly choice that diminishes the impact, if not the coloratura brilliance, of Tereza Gevorgyan in the role through which she stole last year's Opera North production. After all, Un ballo in maschera isn't Oklahoma!. That was on the previous night.