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Un Ballo in Maschera
Millennium Centre, Cardiff
WELSH National Opera opened its spring season with Giuseppe Verdi’s opera about regicide as the company patron, a certain Charles Windsor, joined the audience for Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball).
Love, power and politics collide in a work based on the real-life assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, shot at a masked ball in 1792. Its portrayal of regicide was initially banned on stage but in amended form it eventually passed the censors.
It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall of Mr Windsor’s box as this tale of adultery between a royal and his best friend’s wife unfolds to its grisly denouement.
This is the first time the WNO have performed the opera and director David Pountney has surpassed himself with a musical feast, though with a somewhat confused staging.
Soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams is rapidly becoming a Verdi specialist and her persuasive portrayal of Amelia is matched by her joyous singing.
As with so many Verdi heroines, Amelia is married but is lusted after by a more powerful man in the form of tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones’s Riccardo and the soprano, now a firm favourite in Cardiff, has the audience in raptures with her stunning arias.
The interplay with Riccardo as he professes his love for her in the grisly setting of a field where executions are carried out is moving and convincing.
But the misogyny evident in Verdi’s day towards women who stray is evident in the line Riccardo sings to Amelia, that she is a “cruel woman” for reminding him that he is seducing the wife of his best friend.
It is in the denouement with her husband, baritone Roland Wood’s Renato, where the strength of the opera lies — he finds Riccardo and Amelia together and turns from best friend to enraged and vengeful husband.
Renato’s intensity as he tells his wife that he will kill her is reciprocated by the horror-struck Amelia, who fails to convince him that she has not been unfaithful.
Wonderfully acted and sung, with the WNO chorus and orchestra on top form, this is a production which does full justice to those seductive themes of love, adultery, betrayal and murder.
Runs at the Millennium Centre and tours until April 24, details: wno.org.uk.
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