And then there is the anticipation that comes with any new production. Here, German director, Katharina Thoma, makes her Covent Garden debut. Her 2013 production of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne was set, somewhat controversially, in the Second World War. This time, she goes back to just before the First World War, which, she says, has direct parallels with the original setting of the opera, based on the assassination of the Swedish King Gustav III at a masked ball in 1792 - a time when, as she says “one big epoch was coming to an end and the world was heading towards WWI without knowing it.”
Verdi got into trouble with the censors for his choice of subject matter. As he was rehearsing the opera in Naples in 1858, there was an assassination attempt on King Napoleon III, and he was subsequently forced to turn his King Gustav into the fictional, if unlikely Riccardo, Governor of Boston. But this did not have any detrimental effect on the opera itself, which was an instant hit, and has been performed regularly ever since.
As one would expect, all the hallmarks of a great Verdi opera are here - glorious music, sumptuous orchestration, romance and tragedy. But Verdi also incorporates the lighter side of French opera, by bringing out the comic elements of the Governor’s character and his courtiers. This juxtaposition of Italian and French styles was particularly innovative, but works perfectly.
The critic's perspective: 'rudimentary' and 'underwhelming'
The verdict is out on Un Ballo, and it has underwhelmed. Despite the anticipation built up behind the sterling cast and exciting director, critics were left questioning Katharina Thoma’s every decision, from the WW1 setting to the unsubtle characterisation from the main actors. Even conductor Daniel Oren, usually a reliable hand, has been accused of lacking precision and colour. Writing for the Financial Times, Richard Fairman notes the trickiness in staging Un Ballo; both the previous Royal Opera and ENO productions were met with very cold receptions. Thoma's rendition isn't as controversial as those that have gone before, but it does appear to be a rather weak production. An immense shame, as the opera boasts one of Verdi's most delightful scores.
|What||Un Ballo in Maschera, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
18 Dec 14 – 17 Jan 15, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Royal Opera House’s website.|