The Canadian Opera Company’s staging of Ballo (rented from the Berlin Staatsoper), confronts the viewer with these issues. Directors Jossi Weiler and Sergio Morabito have placed Renato, Riccardo, Amelia and the rest of the cast in a Kennedy-era American ballroom. With neon lights and mirrored chandeliers, the stage was bright and colourful, in marked contrast to the gloominess that often envelopes Ballo productions. And the appearance of several dead bodies hanging from the ceiling gave Act II an arrestingly surreal quality.
That said, the dramatic elements must be dramatic, and the glorious music must be glorious, or this kind of production will fall flat on its face. And, happily, the COC assembled a group of strong Verdi singers who found their way into the emotional core of the piece.
It’s a blessing to COC audiences that soprano Adrianne Pieczonka lives in Toronto, and has become something of a fixture on the local operatic scene. With a voice that was both lush and edgy, she was everything one could hope for in an Amelia. Her dynamic contrasts were spine-tingling, her melismas seemed effortless, and every phrase was beautifully shaped.
Tenor Dmitri Pittas gave an engaging performance as Riccardo, portraying him as a young, charismatic leader. (Was JFK his model? So it seemed.) The same confident sense of power was in his voice, too – which was bright, strong and agile. Similarly, Roland Wood was a formidable presence as Renato. However, his stentorian delivery seemed a tad forced, at times.
As Ulrica, Elena Manistina was very effective. Her voluptuous mezzo voice commanded attention – and she even managed to make her rather wide vibrato work in her favour, enhancing her aura of spookiness. And Simone Osborne, as Oscar (a girl, not a boy, in this production), made a fine display of her agile soprano voice.
On top of all this, conductor Stephen Lord made the COC Orchestra and Chorus sizzle with excitement.
In short, this cast never seemed unsure of what to do, or why they were doing it, or how to go about it. It was a satisfying pleasure to see such a secure and committed production. More like this one, please!
© Colin Eatock 2014