Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park, London
Wednesday 22 July 2009
The last thing you need is a voiceless tenor on opening night of Verdi’s troubled political thriller Un ballo in maschera.
The pivotal role of Gustavus III, assassinated at a masked ball in the Royal Opera House, Stockholm, in 1792, has been much beloved of big stars throughout its chequered history. Rafael Rojas is hardly that but David Rendall has been and together they rescued a near-disaster, Rendall singing from the pit, Rojas moving and mouthing furiously on stage.
Director Martin Lloyd-Evans, meanwhile, had his cake and ate it, opting in part for the Boston revision of the opera (one of many adjustments prompted by Verdi’s run-ins with the Italian censors) but with one significant promotion: King Gustavo was no longer merely the colonial governor of Massachusetts at the time of the War of Independence but President of the United States in the here and now. That ticked a number of boxes, not least his supreme power and the looming spectre of assassination – but it also left the director open to the wrath of the traditionalists, one or two of whom booed vigorously at his curtain call.
But this is opera, and turning the fortune-teller Ulrica into a kind of Mystic Meg (Carole Wilson, alarming in sequins with chest notes to match) bellowing her fateful prophesies amidst clouds of dry ice whilst taking the odd important call on her mobile is no less credible than the original text - and actually when she advises Amelia to seek out the “place of death” there to find the “drug” which will rid her of her passion for Gustavo, the lawless, gun-toting ghetto rings frighteningly true. But the self-administered shot of Big H during Amelia’s big number? No wonder her lover was opening his mouth and making no sound.
On that score, David Rendall’s voicing of Rafael Rojas was adequate, top notes in place but so much else threadbare now. Olafur Sigurdarson’s Renato was all bluster and no legato. Which gave the stage to the young lady everyone is talking about – Amanda Echalaz. It’s rare to find a voice of such true spinto colour, dark and plangent with a stonking top C where, as here, required. Echalaz just needs to find more quiet dynamics and that facility for taking the voice away to a state of weightlessness above the stave. But my goodness, she’s exciting. Let’s hope the right people are nursing this exceptional talent. She’s almost ready to fly.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre