Japan Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio, Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Tokyo, 7.12.2013 (RP)
Riccardo: Ramon Vargas
Renato: Gabriele Viviani
Amelia: Oksana Dyka
Ulrica: Marianne Cornetti
Oscar: Ai Ichihara
Silvano: Federico Longhi
Samuel: Fabrizio Beggi
Tom: Jose Antonio Garcia
A judge: Luca Casalin
Amelia’s servant: Alejandro Escobar
Direction: Lorenzo Mariani
Sets: Maurizio Balò
Costumes: Maurizio Millenotti
Stage sets by Teatro Regio in co-production with Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania
2013 is drawing to a close and with it the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth. On tour in Tokyo, Teatro Regio Torino presented Un Ballo in Maschera in the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan to commemorate the occasion; they also performed the Verdi Requiem a few days earlier. Gianandrea Noseda led a thoroughly polished, insightful production and, together with the cast, chorus and orchestra, delivered a coherent, musically satisfying Un Ballo. The set, costumes and stage direction were a different matter.
The production was basic at best. Was it Boston or Stockholm? In reality, it could have been anywhere, and that did not seem to matter to anyone. The color palette was limited, and black and white alternated with red. The concept worked in Act I, as the black and white effectively evoked the Art Deco feel of the sets. No great surprise that red was Ulrica’s theme color. The first scene of Act III was dominated by a big red bed, but otherwise it was generic white panels with only a giant chandelier in the final scene to break the monotony.
Costume-wise, the women of the chorus fared best with richly detailed Art Deco evening dresses. Not much can go wrong with white tie and tails for the men: it doesn’t show a lot of imagination but it looks good. Maurizio Millenoti’s costumes for Amelia went from elegant to ridiculous. Oksana Dyka’s Act I costume made for a beautiful and elegant Amelia, but her black peignoir was not very flattering in the first scene of Act III, and her ball costume in the final scene was bizarre and wildly out of context. It was sort of Titania, Queen of the Faeries, as dreamed up by the late British designer Alexander McQueen. Yes, it is a masked ball, but the costume was distracting and shifted the focus to Amelia when the plot dictated that it lie elsewhere. I kept thinking of another Verdi opera when I looked at her.
There was a bit of cross-cultural disconnect between the staging and the audience. In Japan, it is taboo to enter someone’s house wearing shoes. A Japanese friend said that he was a bit shocked to see Oscar, Riccardo and Renato jump on furniture with their shoes on. I suppose that was an unintended consequence of Lorenzo Mariani’s attempts to inject action into his otherwise static staging. Oscar can get away with a lot, but the other characters are of a different social status and rank and do not generally hop on and off of furniture.
Ramon Vargas, in fine voice, sang elegantly and was extremely musical. He was far shorter than his Amelia, but one hardly noticed: his assured and suave Riccardo put him in command of every scene. Oksana Dyka generates a lot of negative press for what she is not. With her tight vibrato and somewhat steely sound, she is not a lirico spinto soprano with a classical Italianate sound, but she has the goods and delivers. Her voice has a remarkable clarity from top to bottom, and she can sculpt long, expressive phrases. She was poised and elegant in the first two acts, but without much to do in the final scene she just looked ill at ease in that unfortunate costume.
Marianne Cornetti was an accomplished Ulrica. Costumed in a massive, unruly wig and flowing robe, she and her companions seemed to have stepped out of the witches’ scene in Macbeth. There was even a caldron that glowed red when Ulrica prophesized that Riccardo would die at the hand of his friend. Cornetti is venturing into soprano repertoire, having just sung her first Turandot in Roumania. Nonetheless, her rich chest tones remain impressive. She has appeared several times in Tokyo and was clearly an audience favorite. (Full disclosure: I do know Ms. Cornetti.)
Ai Ichihara was a sprightly, charming and sassy Oscar. Her voice is a bit light even for Oscar, but she added much needed sparkle to the production. Gabriele Viviani’s voice is about one size too small for Renato, and he took a while to warm up. His high notes in the first two acts were a bit off, but he came alive in the Act III confrontation scene with Amelia. The couple is married in real life, but whatever the reason, there was real passion in that scene and the high notes were spot on.
For me the Verdi anniversary began a year ago with Riccardo Muti’s Simon Boccanegra at the Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma, and Un Ballo brought it to a close. I won’t force a comparison between Muti and Noseda. Musically, Turin held its own against the Rome cast, orchestra and chorus, and it may in fact have gathered the starrier cast. Both companies face tight budgets, but imagination is not constrained by monetary factors. The Tokyo audience applauded warmly and showed true appreciation for Teatro Regio Torino’s efforts. Tickets were expensive, and musically they got their money’s worth. It is too bad that they were shortchanged on stage magic. Rome proved that it can be done.