Florida Grand Opera Presents Verdi's A MASKED BALL, 4/29
Excitement is building as Florida Grand Opera (FGO) prepares to open its production of one of Verdi's greatest works, Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), a searing drama of royal intrigue and the conflict between duty and following one's heart. Long considered one of the ultimate challenges for the world's greatest singers of the Italian repertoire, including Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, and Plácido Domingo, Un ballo in maschera comes to Florida Grand Opera for the first time since 2005, with a cast of some of the finest singers available on the international opera scene.
Un ballo in maschera is one of Verdi's most richly varied works, containing elements of fiery melodrama, romance, biting wit, and the supernatural. Gustavo III, the Swedish king, is warned of a plot against his life, which he laughs off. The fortune teller Ulrica tells him that the next person to shake his hand will be the one who kills him. When that person turns out to the king's secretary and closest friend, Count Anckarström, Gustavo is even more dismissive of the idea that he is in danger. But when Anckarström discovers that his wife, Amelia, and the king are secretly in love, he joins in the assassination plot against Gustavo, paving the way for a chilling and powerful final act, set against the splendor of a grand masked ball.
On opening night, the role of Gustavo, the Swedish king torn between love and friendship, is Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Davila. The legendary music critic of The New Yorker, Andrew Porter, rated Gustavo as second only to Otello among the great tenor roles created by Verdi. Davila follows a distinguished line of FGO interpreters of the role that includes Richard Tucker, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo.
FGO audiencs least heard Davila as Don José in Carmen last autumn, a success soon followed by his surprise Metropolitan Opera debut in the same role. The New York Times music critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim praised his "burly, dark-hued tenor" and "appealing plangent ping," and predicted that "judging from the audience's reaction, Mr. Davila will return." Davila sings the role of Gustavo at FGO on April 29, May 2, 6, and 11.
In the role of Amelia, torn between wifely devotion and her love for Gustavo, FGO's opening night cast boasts Tamara Wilson, one of the most brilliant Italianate sopranos of the current generation. Wilson's FGO engagement comes at the end of an exciting year in which she won the 2016 Richard Tucker Award, one of the most coveted prizes in the opera industry. She also received an Olivier nomination for her performance in maverick director Calixto Bieito's production of The Force of Destiny (La forza del destino) at English National Opera. Wilson sings Amelia on April 29, May 2, 6, and 11.
Davila and Wilson alternate with two other fine artists: tenor Jonathan Burton sings Gustavo on April 30, May 5, and May 13. This engagement will be a homecoming for Burton, who is a former member of FGO's Young Artist Program. In recent seasons, Burton has been earning superb reviews for singing some of the most difficult roles in the Italianate repertoire, including Radamès in Aida, Calaf in Turandot, and Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West. Opera News has praised both his "powerful, full-bodied sound" and "brilliant top notes."
Soprano Alexandra LoBianco sings Amelia on April 30, May 5, and May 13. An exciting artist whose diverse repertoire encompasses Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Minnie in La fanciulla del West, and Magda Sorel in The Consul, LoBianco recently scored a success in her European debut, as Leonore in Fidelio at Vienna State Opera.
FGO's cast of Un ballo in maschera also features baritone Todd Thomas as Count Anckarström. Recognized as one of today's most authentic and satisfying Verdi stylists (Opera News wrote, "It's hard to imagine there are many better Falstaffs working on North American stages today"), Thomas's performances at FGO and Sarasota Opera have made him a favorite of Florida audiences. For the role of the mysterious fortune teller Ulrica, FGO has engaged powerhouse mezzo-soprano Dana Beth Miller, whose recent successes include singing the title role in Massenet's seldom-performed Hériodade at Washington Concert Opera. Singing the flighty page Oscar is soprano Elena Galván, a highly promising member of FGO's Young Artist Program heard on the mainstage in the 2015-16 season as Norina in Don Pasquale.
The stage director of Un ballo in maschera is Marco Pelle. Best known for his long and fruitful collaboration with New York Theatre Ballet, Pelle has worked with many leading ballet stars, including Roberto Bolle, Polina Semionova, Isabelle Ciaravola, and Letizia Giuliani.
"Ballo is about both betrayal and the respect of values," says Pelle. "Verdi once said that once you see the color of an opera, you can compose the music for it. We can see that with Ballo, he saw the color very clearly."
Ramón Tebar, FGO's principal conductor, leads all performances of Ballo. His other musical posts in Florida include the artistic directorship of both the Palm Beach Symphony and Opera Naples. His opera résumé includes engagements at many leading international theaters, including Teatro Colón and Teatro Regio di Torino. Maestro Tebar was last heard at FGO leading Carmen last autumn.
"Un ballo in maschera is one of Verdi's finest achievements, and one of the strongest of all Italian operas," says FGO General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis. "It is a measure of how far the company has stepped forward that we are able to assemble this first-rate cast to give South Florida audiences the best Ballo production possible."