REVIEW: Un ballo in maschera Welsh National Opera Bristol

Un ballo in maschera Review WNO Bristol:

Photos: Bill Cooper

Opera was hot property back in the day. Legal wrangling. Politics. Censoring, bans and rewrites. Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera was no exception, causing ire with this story based on the real-life assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden.

The finer details were changed, demoting the king to political leader, although he still gets taken-out at a masked ball. It’s hard to imagine something so innocuous in 2019 might have sparked outrage in the days of yore.

There was no such outrage sparked at The Bristol Hippodrome last night, although the Air Conductor sat in L row was an inch away from an irritated tap on the shoulder.

Directed by Gareth Jones, the WNO orchestra were on sparkling form. As usual, the Chorus was a highlight, managing more Danse Macabre conga lines than a Saturday night at Reflex.

Raimund Bauer’s clunky moving walls felt cumbersome, annoying and dour. At times, Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costumes looked like the grab-what-you-can from the costume box, giving Act One the feel of Pirates of Penzance meets early nineties Meatloaf.

Somehow, this design mish-mash works better from the opening of Act Two and the production seems to settle in its direction. The theatre within a theatre set worked in this act – the rows of seats, glowing wolves eyes and strong lighting designed by Fabrice Kebour.

Overall, I felt this production was a real missed opportunity to attempt to bring a more diverse audience to opera. In Bristol, this is desperately needed before it flatlines. That’s a shame, because musically, it was a beautiful performance and with its mix of love, tragedy, masked balls, Satan worship and murder, it has so much to offer.

Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Amelia was outstanding, a real joy to hear. Julie Martin du Theil, relished the comic opportunities offered by Oscar, both of them creating the best moments in an opera marred by questionable design choices.

The WNO continues their run at The Bristol Hippodrome with The Magic Flute 11/04 and 13/04 and Roberto Devereux 12/04.

For tickets, visit: atgtickets.com/Bristol

For more information about the WNO, visit: wno.org.uk