Un Ballo in Maschera at the West Green House Opera

The tone for the West Green House Opera is set by the admonition on its website that “the consistent dress code for all evening performances is Black Tie.” Back to the notion of opera for the elite? Or instead a signal that the audience should expect an artistic experience of a truly festive standard? Well, Un Ballo in Maschera certainly did not provide the latter.

There were some positive aspects: director Richard Studer used the performing space creatively with movement and groupings of the admirable chorus  which served the drama well. But musically it was a different story. A major problem was the orchestra: some hesitancy in the playing and an occasional lack of coordination between pit and singers suggested inadequate rehearsal.

The work makes great demands on the soloists and it was an unwise decision to give performances of it on consecutive evenings. Unsurprisingly those with smaller parts came out best, particularly the Russians Galina Averina as a pert, agile Oscar and Maria Gulik, a vocally assured Ulrica; so also the conspirators, Piotr Lempa and Matthew Stiff. The Riccardo, Jonathan Stoughton, was suffering from a cold and can be forgiven for some strained high notes and insufficient vocal fluidity. The baritone of George von Bergen was pushed beyond its comfort zone by the demands imposed by Verdi on Renato. In contrast, Rebecca Nash’s soprano is well suited to the role of Amelia, with its bright full tone in the higher register and her ability to spin out softer sounds in the more reflective passages. But her performance was too much old-fashioned melodrama and it jarred when juxtaposed with that of her laid-back lover.

It cost patrons £135 a ticket for this. Not good value, unless their primary interest is in dressing up, strolling in the beautiful gardens and enjoying a dinner interval picnic.