‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ a combination of love and politics

Special/El Nuevo Herald

With a plot between love and betrayal, Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera rises to Florida Grand opera’s stage.

The requirements of the censors changed the characters and even the country where Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera takes place, but did not change the fact that it is one of his best. The great composer, author of 27 operas, was in the middle of his career when he received the commission for the opera to be premiered in Naples. The multiple problems with the Neapolitan censors forced the move of the premiere to Rome in 1859.
Full of musical color and intensive characterization of its roles, Un Ballo in Maschera was considered his greatest success after Il Trovatore six years before. The historical plot finds its origin in the assassination of Sweden’s King Gustav III, in a romantic reading, but censors opposed the ideal of a royal crime on stage and the drama was changed from Stockholm to Puritanical Boston.

Florida Grand Opera brings American tenor Steven Harrison and British soprano Claire Rutter for the principal roles for the premiere this Saturday April 30 at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium and a run that takes it also to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

Harrison, in the role of Riccardo, Earl of Warwick –originally King Gustav- loves Amelia (Rutter), the wife of Renato, his best friend. This leads for a plot to kill him in a masked ball. His page Oscar –here played by a woman in a man’s costume, Sarah Coburn- tries to hide his disguise, but to no avail, thus leading to the tragic ending.

“Exactly 10 years ago I began my career here with a small role in Wagner’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’; I had no experience on the operatic stage, I was a musician,” says Harrison. “Now I am returning with the most demanding tenor role, four arias in the first act, a duet in the second and the great final scene”

“But the music is a lot of fun and the character is both passionate and playful, always in and out of emotional situations” explains the tenor; something that describes Verdi’s own traits. Harrison has shined in the role of Werther, which he enthusiastically describes. “It is so exposed and so intimate that it breathes on stage” he says. It is evident he lives in the world of opera, preferring clean and honest characters like those in La Boheme or Aida, to Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, for example. For him the dramatic situation is as important as the singing. “If you are not immersed in the character’s emotions” he says” you cannot vibrate with that last touch of despair, like when Don Jose kills Carmen.” His voice has been described as full of color equally at ease in Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor or Rodolfo in La Boheme. He has been compared to Placido Domingo for the versatility of his repertoire and the quality of his voice.

In her first trip to Miami, soprano Claire Rutter comments that it is the drama in her character which is the most difficult to perform. “It is almost the same story as Otello, with a great emotion that drains you. I am in some way the victim; I lose the man I platonically love, the tenor. But I have not betrayed my husband. He thinks I have, so I have to face the consequences.”

Like Harrison, who did not originally think about becoming an opera singer, Rutter began her career studying acting, but in the course of a play she was forced to sing and that changed her destiny. Acclaimed by London critics, she has Amelia, together with Violetta in La Traviata and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni as her favorite roles. She is a dramatic soprano, but dares to imitate Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli and others as she is also a belter. Her voice has such variety of registers that, when recording a Christmas album, there was a need for a child’s voice. She did it, ending up singing a duet with herself. “Nobody noticed,” she points out smiling. “In the cover, they called the kid Eric Trauolert, an anagram of my name”.