Safe Steady Ballo Starts San Francisco Season
War Memorial Opera House
09/11/1999 - and 14, 19, 23, 25, 28, September, 1 and 6, October 1999
Giuseppe Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
Richard Margison (Gustavus III/Riccardo), Carol Vaness (Amelia), Sergei Leiferkus/Bruno Caproni (10/1) (Count Anckarstrom/Renato), Elena Zaremba/Eugenie Grunewald (10/6) (Madame Arvidson/Ulrica), Oscar (Tracy Dahl), John Ames (Count Horn/Samuele), John Relyea (Count Ribbing/Tommaso), Daniel Harper (a Judge), Armando Gama/Alfredo Daza (9/25, 28, 10/1, 6) (Christian/Silvano), Richard Walker (Ameliaís servant)
Orchestra and Chorus of the San Francisco Opera, Donald Runnicles (conductor)
Roman Terleckyj (Stage Director)
As a season opener, San Francisco Opera served up a decent revival of John Conklinís production of Verdiís Un Ballo in Maschera which moves the setting back to Sweden. This time around, the opera featured San Francisco Opera regulars Carol Vaness and Richard Margison as well as Sergei Leiferkus, Tracy Dahl and Elena Zaremba, all of whom have sung here before.
Given the current state of Verdi singers available on the international circuit, this Ballo, while far from ideal, was a decent, reliable account of Verdiís opera. The three principals all lacked some essential element or other to make for a completely satisfying performance, but each gave their best and contributed to the consistency of the whole.
As Amelia, Carol Vaness fared much better here than in last yearís Norma. Her tone was steadier, her top more reliable and her just as commitment unquestionable. The voice lacks the kind of richness in the middle register and fullness at the top to truly spin out a Verdian line, but she gave a musical, stylish and intense performance. Whatever she lacks in vocal resources for the role, Vaness is more than able to tackle the dramatic aspects. She captures the emotional range of a woman torn by love and duty, a mother, wife and potential lover, with a fervor that marks her best work.
Tenor Richard Margisonís Gustavus III was noteworthy for his easy, free, ringing top and even tonal production throughout the range. But he is an indifferent actor and his tendency to sing just behind the beat at times further saps energy from his performance. As a result, the singing is never quite thrilling and the character is never quite involved, leaving his fellow performers to act in a void.
Possessing both strong theatrical instincts and a robust voice, baritone Sergei Leiferkusís greatest limitation was his basic vocal quality. The limited, harsh tone served well enough in Count Anckarstromís moments of fury, but the complete lack of Italianate warmth and his monochromatic snarling tone wears quickly on the ear, despite the singerís phrasing and the actorís insight. His suitability in the Russian repertory has not crossed over successfully into this repertory.
On the other hand, fellow Russian, Elena Zaremba (he is from Leningrad, she from Moscow), served up a Madame Arvidson to relish. Played as a mystic eventually exhausted by her own powers, Zaremba poured out a steady stream of full, lush tone and majestic phrasing.
And reprising her role from the 1990 production, soprano Tracy Dahl is nothing short of perfect as Oscar. Vocally she sounds as fresh and youthful as ever while her portrayal captures the insouciance and joy with which Verdi has imbued the role.
The companyís music director, Donald Runnicles did his usual, excellent job of bringing out the warm sonorities of the string and wind sections of the orchestra and maintaining the dramatic thrust of the music. But sometimes the phrasing was a little square and lacked shapeliness.
John Conklinís production, now over twenty years old, still looks handsome and stage director Roman Terleckyj used it well to present a straight-forward telling of the story. He provided a strong framework that benefited the cast which for the most part was comprised of performers with considerable dramatic gifts.