Monday 25 June 2007

Paris Ballo di Maschera: Stylish production, varying performances

Ballo in maschera. Paris Bastille Opera, June 2007. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Cast: Evan Bowers (Riccardo), Angela Brown (Amelia), Ludovic Tézier (Renato), Elena Manistina (Ulrica), Camilla Tilling (Oscar). Conductor: Semyon Bychkov.

With 35 degrees Celcius outside on a sunny Sunday afternoon, who really wants to be inside the (by the way freezing) Bastille Opera where Gilbert Deflo´s new production of Ballo In Maschera had opened just a week previously?

As expected for those familiar with previous Gilbert Deflo productions, such as Manon and the Prokofiev Oranges, this Ballo in maschera was equally minimalistic and aesthetic. A typical scene: A white marble eagle towering over a greek amphiteatre. Then everything becomes black and in the middle we see Ulrica, the African-American (is this the politically correct word?) traditional healer. The colours are predominantly black, red and white. Do we get any new insights into the characters and their motivations? Not really. But everything is very stylish.

Ludovic Tézier is Renato - not only does he look good, he also has a powerful and steady Verdian baryton voice, and delivered a smashing "Eri tu". He deservedly got the biggest applause of the afternoon.

In the other end of the spectrum Angela Brown simply delivered some of the worst singing I have ever heard of a lead singer in a major house: She has no control of either her middle or upper register, with a vibrato that has gotten completely out of hand. That she is a very large woman does not help our identifying her with Amelia either, especially when she only seemed to have two facial expressions: Sorrow and desperate sorrow. She was in fact booed after her Graveyard aria, not acceptable audience behaviour in my opinion, but it underlines my point: She was not good.

Marcelo Álvarez had canceled his Riccardo, which instead went to Evan Bowers, who was good without being exceptional or memorable. His main problem is monotony - in stage presence as well as singing. Camilla Tilling was a lively Oscar. Non-black people almost always look stupid when made to look black and Elena Manistina was no exception: They forgot to paint her upper chest. Vocally she was acceptable, but no more than that.

Semyon Bychov and the orchestra were effective, precise as well as engaged.

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