In decorous rows and wearing elaborate masks, fine men and ladies of Boston high society danced across the stage, singing, “Life is a seductive dream,” as Verdi’s A Masked Ball reached its bloody climax. We may find comfort in this thought, too-perhaps everything we do is a fantasy, and we are far less responsible for one another than we thought. Verdi doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. In last Saturday’s performance, Opera Santa Barbara, led by the gifted conductor Valery Ryvkin, gave us a portrait of a couple torn between love and duty so vivid that the world’s endless masquerades stopped for a moment, and the inner truth of our passionate lives revealed itself.
The boldness of this revelation began with the opera’s hero and heroine. Richard Crawley, as Riccardo, the Governor of Boston, commanded the stage-and the other characters-with ease. When Ulrike the fortune teller, played with wonderful self-possession by Victoria Hart, warned him of impending doom, he laughed convincingly; when he declared his love for Amelia, his secretary’s wife, he sang to the stars with compelling rapture. Fabiana Bravo, as Amelia, returned his love with such beauty that the audience immediately understood why they dared to tell the truth. For a moment, these characters left behind the pretense of their carefully scripted lives, and they took the audience with them.
Everyone in the production contributed to this magnificently unified performance. Malcolm MacKenzie, as Amelia’s husband, Renato, managed the difficult task of transforming his character’s loyalty into unreasoning hatred, while Anna Virke, as Oscar the page, lightened the mood with her sparkling arias just enough to keep the audience from utter despair. Matthew Trevino and Lucas Harbour, as the conspirators Samuele and Tomaso, snarled and joked with a deep, cruel sense of menace. Every element of this production-the cast, the set, the conducting, the music, the direction (by the artful Yefim Maizel)-came together so well that it was clear A Masked Ball hadn’t been a dream at all, but a reflection of the reality that lives inside us.