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A Seductive Dream

A Masked Ball, presented by Opera Santa Barbara. At the Lobero
Theatre, Saturday, March 3.

The_Mask.jpgIn 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
Valéry 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.

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