Friday, July 19

Un ballo in maschera – Oper Köln at StaatenHaus

Director Jan Philipp Gloger presents one of Verdi’s lesser performed works which contains the usual emotional and dramatic power, creating tragic and comic situations in equal measure but often permeated by a cruel irony as characters ae subject to the conflict between the outer façade imposed by society and their inner highly emotional feelings.

Count Riccardo (Gaston Rivero) is in love with Amelia (Astrik Khanamiryan), the wife of his secretary and best friend Renato (Simone del Savio). Amelia reciprocates this love but tries with all her might to suppress her feelings and seeks counsel from fortune teller Ulrica (Agostino Smimmero). Riccardo attends in disguise and discovers from her prophecy that Renato of all people will kill him, which the Count himself can only laugh at first. However, when Renato learns of the secret love between his wife and his friend, the bitterest feelings of revenge are awakened in him, and he joins a conspiracy that plans an assassination attempt on Riccardo during the upcoming masquerade ball…

Milan-born Giuliano Carella is a proven Verdi specialist and at the helm of the Gürzenich Orchestra he draws out some bright and lively playing, but as a result of ongoing renovation works at Offenbachplatz, Oper Köln are performing at StaatenHaus and whilst an auspicious venue and comfortably seating 850, due to site constraints, there is no orchestra pit and as a result the orchestra positioning stage right creates an acoustic challenge as well as coordination issues with cues between the conductor and cast.

Ben Baur’s stage design was constrained by the venue and whilst it was innovative in its portrayal, for anyone unfamiliar with the plot, the necessary scene changes could easily become confusing with Andreas Grüter’s lighting perhaps too subtle. Sibylle Wallum’s costume designs were superb and caught the ambience of the period and distinctions between class perfectly.

Rivero performs strongly with an emphasis on the humour of his character with his vocal becoming stronger as the opera progressed. Khanamiryan caught the emotional travail of her character well but seemed to waiver vocally at the higher end, on occasion dropping an octave. Contralto is the lowest female singing voice and whilst Smimmero was certainly in that range, it was nigh on impossible to fathom the words she was singing although she may be a local favourite as she was well appreciated by the audience at the end. Another slow burner was del Savio but once he fully got into his role in the second half he delivered a powerful vocal, and in conjunction with Khanamiryan and Rivero delivered some strong duets and trios.

Special mention to Christoph Seidl and Lucas Singer make for two excellent conspiring counts, with humorous performances from the off.

The standout for me however was Hila Fahima, Riccardo’s page. She sung beautifully throughout, dominating the stage with a performance that perfectly embodied the drama and comedy inherent in the piece: one to watch out for.

Further information on Oper Köln and upcoming productions in 2024 can be found at https://www.oper.koeln/en/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 4th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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