REVIEW: A Masked Ball (Lyric Opera Chicago)

   
  

Women take the lead in Lyric’s stunning Verdi production

   
  

13 Act Three A MASKED BALL DAN_4071 c Dan Rest

   
The Lyric Opera presents
  
A Masked Ball
  
By Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by
Renata Scotto
Conducted by
Asher Fisch
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
Thru Dec 10  | 
tickets: $43-$217  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I recently re-watched the Bugs Bunny short “What’s Opera, Doc?” and I was amazed by how well it adhered to the traditional visual aesthetic and plot structure of actual operas. The epic landscapes, the buxom blondes, the sudden tragedy in the final act – it’s obvious the director, Chuck Jones, had a deep appreciation for the medium. Renata Scotto’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s A Masked Ball similarly delights in these opera conventions, and her traditional direction captures the majestic grandeur of the lush score. Asher Fisch conducts an orchestra that performs Verdi’s music with precision and intensity, and although there are occasional balance issues with the vocalists, the orchestra is otherwise fine accompaniment for the talented singers.

06 Sondra Radvanovsky Frank Lopardo A MASKED BALL DBR_0519 c Dan RestIn Stockholm, Sweden, King Gustavus III’s (Frank Lopardo) political competitors conspire against him as his thoughts linger on the magnificent Amelia Anckarström (Sondra Radvanovsky), the wife of his private secretary Count Anckarström (Mark Delevan). When Gustavus’s page Oscar (Kathleen Kim) tells him of the fortune teller Mme. Arvidson (Stephanie Blythe), the king grabs the opportunity to learn his fate, but receives less than favorable news: he will be killed by the next hand he shakes. Upon shaking the hand of his closest friend Count Anckarström, events are set in motion that lead to the Count’s alliance with Gustavus’s opposition.

In the leading role, Lopardo’s vocals are technically astounding, but their lyrical quality lacks the dramatic intensity that would make Gustavus a more believable political leader Lopardo. There is a conscious choice to have Gustavus’s role as lover take precedence over his position as king, but the political intrigue could be enhanced by a more aggressive tenor. Delevan disappoints as the piece’s main villain, and his inconsistent vocal positioning diminishes the resonance of his sound. Opera should appear effortless, but there’s a lack of comfort in Delevan that can be both seen and heard, especially in the presence of his masterful female costars.

The weaknesses of the men in the cast are more than compensated by the women, who showcase stunning vocals that elevate the entire production. The petite Kathleen Kim finds herself surrounded by men for most of the show, and her voice glides above the males to lend an air of innocence and sweetness to the tense atmosphere of the early scenes. In her lower register, Kim is occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, but on the whole she gives an exemplary performance in her gender-crossed role.

     
09 Sondra Radvanovsky Frank Lopardo A MASKED BALL RST_7779 c Dan Rest 05 Frank Lopardo Stephanie Blythe A MASKED BALL RST_7318 c Dan Rest
07 Sondra Radvanovsky Mark Delavan A MASKED BALL RST_7499 c Dan Rest 10 Sondra Radvanovsky Frank Lopardo Kathleen Kim A MASKED BALL RST_7860 c Dan Rest 01 Frank Lopardo A MASKED BALL RST_7009 c Dan Rest

The production really begins in the first act’s second scene, when Stephanie Blythe takes the stage as the mysterious Mme. Arvidson, delivering the aria “Re dell’abiso” with astonishing force. Just like her fortunes, which exert their influence long after they’ve been told, the character makes an impression that lingers throughout the entire production, despite only appearing in one scene. Blythe has immense control of her powerful instrument, a quality she shares with Radvonovsky, who stuns as the forlorn Amelia. Amelia’s two arias, “Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa” and “Morro, ma prima in grazia,” are the most powerful moments of the entire show, with Sondra Radvonovsky’s incredibly sonorous voice maintaining strength and clarity in all registers. Her singing emphasizes the expressive qualities of Verdi’s music, and the level of trust she puts in the composer translates to complete comfort on stage.

Under the direction of Renata Scotto, herself a renowned soprano, the women take charge of the production. Despite the unevenness of their male counterparts, the women ignite the drama and splendor of Verdi’s music; their dedication gives A Masked Ball the grand scale that makes opera such an exciting art form.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

12 Act Two A MASKED BALL DAN_3956 c Dan Rest

        
       

 

11 Act One A MASKED BALL DAN_3914 c Dan Rest

        
        

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