Sunset Park

Review: Regina Opera presents a thrilling ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’

December 9, 2014 By Nino Pantano Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Renato (Peter Hakjoon Kim, kneeling) holds the dying Riccardo (Michael Morrow, lying down).  Amelia (Alexis Cregger, front left) and Oscar (Mizuho Takeshita, front right) look on in sadness. Photo by George Schowerer
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On the afternoon of Nov. 22, the production of “Un Ballo in Maschera,” by Giuseppe Verdi and presented by Regina Opera, took place at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Sunset Park.  This production began Regina Opera’s 45th season. The first performance of this masterpiece was at the Apollo Theatre in Rome in 1859. Originally written about the assassination of King Gustav of Sweden, the censors gave Verdi a hard time, and he transferred the action to the late 1700s Boston and the Royal Governor. Verdi and his librettist, Antonio Somma, created a masterpiece.  Many opera greats have sung the roles of Riccardo, Renato, Amelia and Oscar. On occasion, the Swedish version is given.

In short, against a background of political conspiracy, Riccardo, the governor of Boston, loves Amelia who is married to Riccardo’s best friend and secretary, Renato. A sorceress predicts that Riccardo’s best friend will kill him. Riccardo laughs it off. When Renato learns of the affair (which is actually chaste) he joins the conspirators and kills Riccardo at a lavish masked ball. Before dying, Riccardo forgives all and sends the grieving Renato and Amelia to safe passage in England.

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Some of Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest music is in this opera, which is a unique blend of comic and tragedy. Riccardo, the royal governor, was sung by tenor Michael Morrow who possesses a voice of remarkable range. His fearless tenor sang “La rivedra nell’ estasi” with ease and elan. His singing with Ulrica and ensemble of “E’scherzo od e follia” was excellent. His ringing high C in the love duet “Non sei tu” was impressive. His big aria “Ma se m’e forza perderti” in the third act was sung with good breath control and rang out. There is a metallic quality to his sound, but it is robust and manly. Morrow’s “Addio per sempre” during death scene was dramatic, poignant and touching.

Amelia was sung by soprano Alexis Cregger. Her stellar singing of “Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa” placed her in the pantheon of unforgettable Amelia’s. Cregger has a shimmering vibrato, and it gives her silvery voice a special aura. The “Teco io sto” and the ensuing love duet brought their voices to an impressive finish with a prolonged high C. Her exciting vocalism in the last act of “Morro ma prima in grazia” was opera at its best. Cregger provided many moments of ravishing vocal beauty in the grand manner.

Renato, Amelia’s husband, was in the superb hands of Peter Hakjoon Kim, whose robust and glorious baritone captivated the audience with “Alla vita che t’arride.”   His voice has a silken-like quality, and he seems to shift gears and get extra volume on the super high notes as needed with ease and panache.  His singing of “Eri tu” in the third act with such passion and emotion brought tears to the audience’s eyes. Kim, who has studied with Martina Arroyo, is on the cusp of international acclaim. Kim’s performance was exemplary and lives on in memory.

Oscar, Riccardo’s page, was a triumph as portrayed by Mizuho Takeshita, whose perkiness and sweetness of character endeared her to the audience.  Her remarkable coloratura soprano added to the characterization.  Takeshita’s voice shone and sparkled in both the ensembles and arias. Her “Saper vorreste” in the final act was a highlight with some stunning coloratura.  Her voice has power and clarity. Takeshita’s protective stance toward Riccardo took on a more dramatic turn of her part. She is also a student of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. Her performance created quite a “buzz.”

Ulrica, the fortune teller, was strongly played by mezzo Lara Tillotson, whose “Re dell’abisso” was chilling. In one scene, she was cutting a bloody chicken as she gestured over a convulsing woman — which made for an eerie bit of stagecraft. Tillotson has a rich seamless voice and her final “Silencio” was indelible. She blended beautifully in ensemble and gripped us all in solo.

Conspirators Antoine Hodge used his strong bass as Samuel, and Jonathan Dauermann used his noble bass as Tom. Their ironic laughing song in the second act was wryly done.

Nicholas Connolly was Silvano, a sailor, demonstrating a pleasing baritone; Daniel Kerr was a fine Chief Magistrate, and Thomas Geib did well as Amelia’s servant.

The costumes (by Julia Cornely and Alexa Burt) were pilgrim-like and timely in the masked-ball scene. The stage direction was by Linda Lehr, whose genius prevails in breathtaking scenes, compelling action and striking scenarios. The sets, (sliding panels into verdant groves by set artist and flutist Richard Paratley) were striking. The lighting (by Tyler Learned) from subdued to stunning was mood inducing.

The chorus was stirring throughout, with the heavenly finale. The conducting by Maestro Gregory Ortega was extraordinary. The lyrical passages were secure, preludes inspiring, the comedic passages heel kicking, and the music for Ulrica’s lair was bone chilling. The Regina Orchestra played superbly.  Kudos to Yelena Savranskaya (concertmaster), Alexandra Honigsberg (viola), Michael Sirotta (percussion) and Peiwen Chen at the keyboard (harp). The creative graphic designs were by Wayne Olsen and makeup was by Chanel Jimenez.

We thank Francine Garber-Cohen producer for all her Herculean efforts and Linda Cantoni for the excellent supertitles. The Regina attained levels of perfection rarely seen today. This was an exceptional and brilliant afternoon of opera. Bravo to all!

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