By Giuseppe Verdi
Presented by San Francisco Opera
At the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA
Conducted by Marco Armiliato
Directed by Gina Lapinski

Reviewed by Judy Richter

There's no doubt that Deborah Voigt is among today's leading operatic divas. With her vocal power, impeccable control throughout her wide register and clarion tonality, the dramatic soprano also is an expressive singer-actress who clearly conveys the emotions of her character. In this case, it's Amelia Anckarström in the San Francisco Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. The admirably slimmed-down Voigt clearly shows her character's conflicting emotions, for Amelia is the wife of Count Anckarström (baritone Ambrogio Maestri), but in love with the Swedish king, Gustavus III (tenor Marcus Haddock). Ironically, Anckarström is the king's closest, most loyal adviser, so both Amelia and the king are torn between fidelity and passion. Haddock, who has a true but relatively light voice, also does a good job of conveying the king's feelings, and Maestri is solid as Anckarström.

The other principals, though not superstars like longtime SFO favorite Voigt, are nevertheless impressive, including mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn as Madame Arvidson, a fortune teller; soprano Anna Christy as Oscar, the king's page; and bassos Joshua Bloom as Count Ribbing and Jeremy Galyon as Count Horn, conspirators plotting against the king. Christy is noteworthy for her crystalline coloratura as well as her energetic stage presence.

The production, ably directed by Gina Lapinski, works well dramatically, but conductor Marco Armiliato sometimes seems at odds with the singers rather than staying with them and trying to keep the otherwise excellent orchestra from overpowering them. Ian Robertson's SFO Chorus, both men and women, makes solid contributions. The handsome costumes, highlighted by those at the masquerade ball in the final scene, are by John Conklin, the dramatic lighting by Marie Barrett and the choreography by Lawrence Pech. The sets were originally created for the Washington National Opera. SFO presents "Un Ballo" with just one intermission, consolidating Acts 2 and 3 with just a short interlude to change the set.

For more information, see the San Francisco Opera home page.

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18 Sep 2006