Panelled walls by set and costume designer takis hide and reveal conspirators in the production by Rodula Gaitanou that bowls along with the easy-going enjoyment of a country house party until matters turn nasty.
When a jaunt to the local fortune-teller is proposed, the people's leader Gustavo secretly slips money into the pocket of a poor and loyal trooper to make her prophesy of future riches come true. He has already told us that power has no beauty until it dries the tears of its people. Political wannabes everywhere should listen to this.
Rosalind Plowright as the fortune-teller Madada Arvison. Photo: Ali Wright
Beautifully sung by tenor Matteo Lippi, back at OHP after his impressive Puccini's La Rondine in 2017, Gustavo is a generous presence. No wonder the wife of his right hand man, Anckarström, is smitten.
Amelia is sung by Anne Sophie Duprels, a great favourite at OHP, most recently in last year's Isabeau. Here she is at her finest – delicate, sympathetic and sincere. Like Brief Encounter's Laura – and like Fleabag's priest, making self-denial newly fashionable – she puts her pledge ahead of her desires.
The singing of George von Bergen as the husband who wrongly believes himself to be betrayed is occasionally a little feral, but then, so is his character. Rosalind Plowright, also appearing in the Royal Opera House's Andrea Chenier, is the majestic psychic Madame Arvidson, sporting headgear that combines antennae and royal wedding fascinator with a giant malarial mosquito.
In Verdi the chorus is often a character in its own right. OHP's deservedly terrific reputation for chorus work (chorus master Richard Harker) and the big set pieces of Un Ballo in Maschera is a marriage made in heaven. Go for the men's laughing chorus alone, snearing on the offbeat when Amelia is discovered in disguise, and you will have had a good night out.
Amelia is taunted by the men who discover her identity. Photo: Ali Wright
There are treats in this production whichever way you turn. John Savournin is sinister and mocking as one of the conspirators. And Alison Langer came close to stealing the show with her spirited trouser-role Oscar, the androgynous major domo devoted to Gustavo, a master of ceremonies with song-and-dance skills to look out for.
Opera Holland Park has a great gift for spotting singers, and we are sure to see much, much more of the talented Alison Langer. She sang the leading role of Violetta in the Young Artists' performance of Verdi's La Traviata last year. (The main performances starred another OHP find, Lauren Fagan.) And behind that production was this same winning team: director Gaitanou with her refined feeling for storyline and character development, and conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren.
Among the director's many perceptive devices is vulnerable Amelia's checking-in to a private clinic for an antidote to love. In the original, the fortune-teller tips her off about an anti-love plant. But the sight of a vulnerable woman alone with a hospital bed is sadder by far to modern eyes than a walk to the woods.
Alison Langer impresses as Oscar. Photo: Ali Wright
Waldren has his finger on the pulse of Verdi and an unerring feeling for the music's inner beats and rhythms. Walking that tightrope between dragging and rushing is a gift and a skill that the audience can relax into, carried along at a rate that is as right and natural as your own heartbeat. Luckily, he has the City of London Sinfonia and the Opera Holland Park Chorus at his beck and call. There was such lovely solo playing from the pit on opening night, notably from the principal cellist, flautist and clarinet. Oh and all the rest... As for that chorus. You just want to take them all home.
The masked ball of the title that concludes the opera is a spectacular and suitably confusing affair. Who is who? It was a little disappointing that the the panelled walls were not pushed aside for this great set piece, but perhaps obscuring some masqueraders was the point. Nevertheless, this is an absolutely outstanding production, musically, visually and theatrically.
There are some tickets still available, but you'll need to be as quick on your feet as this nifty cast.
|What||Un Ballo in Maschera, Opera Holland Park review|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
08 Jun 19 – 29 Jun 19, 12 performances
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|