‘Un ballo in maschera’ by the Young Artists at Opera Holland Park

Fedoras, trench coats and peacocks at Opera Holland Park’s ‘Un ballo in maschera’

I walked into three peacocks on the way out of Holland Park which taught me two things; firstly, that peacocks are a trip hazard after dark, and secondly that on a public road peacocks think they have the right of way.

Opera Holland Park takes place, seemingly surrounded by peacocks, in a covered open-air theatre that amazingly manages to support the necessary technical setup whilst still retaining the al fresco atmosphere so synonymous with British summers. The arching entranceways to the left and right of the stalls flood the stage with natural light that throws the whole performance into stark relief until the sun sets. It’s a theatre in which all the seams are exposed. The lighting rigs are visible, making the audience unusually aware of each individual cue. The set of Gaitanou’s production of ‘Un ballo in mascera’ was similarly lucid. One large, movable structure of wood panelled doors and walls was reconfigured by the cast between scenes to indicate changing locations, although from the interval onwards this mainly manifested itself in a flat wall towards the front of the stage, which at times felt a little overly horizontal. I couldn’t help but wish that the expanse of dead stage behind the set was used slightly more productively.

On Friday the production of ‘Un ballo in maschera’ which ran throughout June to great acclaim, was performed by members of the Opera Holland Park Young Artists initiative. The Young Artists rehearse alongside the main cast and put on a performance on the same stage at the end of the run. The chorus, costumed in fedoras, dark sunglasses and trench coats, had a slightly mawkish speakeasy character, fingers silently clicking whilst Madame Arvidson (performed superbly by Georgia Mae Bishop) tells their fortunes, and gamblers tossing their coins in time.

Sonia Ben-Santamaria produced an intimacy and lightness with the orchestra that achieved something delightfully like large-scale chamber music at times, whilst still being able to enforce the gravitas and weight of the score’s soaring, sterner climaxes. Claire Lees’ glittering, excitable delivery was a joy to listen to and her comedic presence on stage lit up the performance. ‘Un ballo in maschera’ sets fast-paced, joking light-footedness alongside deep-seated pain and tragedy; it’s a difficult balance to maintain. There were a few moments where the push for a laugh would have perhaps been best made to wait, but on the whole Rodula Gaitanou’s production caught the stark emotional jerks and fractures that make ‘Un ballo in maschera’ both captivating and disturbing. The Young Artist cast displayed a really exciting level of talent, from Blaise Malaba’s mellifluous bass to Jack Holton’s captivating performance as Anckarström. Nadine Benjamin’s powerful, mobile voice was a particular highlight, carrying the warm, beautifully controlled legatos of ‘Morro, ma prima in grazia’ perfectly. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more from all these artists in future. 

Review by Alice Williams

For details on the rest of Opera Holland Park´s season visit https://operahollandpark.com/season-and-events/

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