Verdi’s operas are infused with passion and intrigue, but Un ballo in maschera (The Masked Ball) stands out as a shining example.
The opera is based on historical events surrounding King Gustav III of Sweden‘s death. (He’s pictured at left.) Despite being dearly loved by his subjects, the king was shot in 1792 at a masked ball as part of a political conspiracy. Due to the political climate when the opera was written, it was censored by the government and production was not allowed to be produced as long as the opera showed the assassination of a king. Verdi met the censor’s demands by switching the setting to Boston, Massachusetts — instead of a king, the protagonist is now a governor. With the change of plot and character names, the opera was allowed to proceed and make its premiere in 1859.
Vineyard Touring Opera (VTO) brings this operating gem to life in the American setting during the 1920s. Decked out in the costumes of the Roaring ’20s, the cast sings in Italian, with English supertitles. As their name might imply, VTO presents the same production in three different locations: Claremont, South Pasadena, and Santa Monica. The production is also double cast for most of the major roles, so every performance is different. We attended the evening performance on October 12, in South Pasadena.
The Women’s Club of South Pasadena was pleasantly buzzing with a healthy-sized house. The enthusiastic crowd met every discussion and musical number with warm applause. In addition to the supertitles, further notes were offered about the plot and historical context during scene changes, to aid in the understanding and enjoyment of the show. The smaller stage allowed for a minimalist set and simplified staging. The reduced orchestra, led by VTO President Alan Medak, managed the score capably, and adjusted dynamics so the singers could be heard. The small chorus opened the show, giving way to Cheryl Ecker‘s energetic portrayal of Oscar and Donald Squillace‘s refreshing interpretation of Riccardo, singing of his love for Amelia. Elaine Alaoglu‘s appropriately foreboding Ulrica predicts the coming murder as Renato (Jay Stephenson) shakes Riccardo’s hand, sealing the fate of the murderer and victim. Stephenson is nicely balanced by Judith Townsend‘s impassioned portrayal of Amelia, in their complicated relationship of love and hate. Of special note in the supporting cast, Paul Junger performed well as the Magistrate and Silvano.
The final weekend of performances can be seen on October 19 in Santa Monica at 2 and 7:30pm. Visit www.vtopera.org for more details.