Saturday, December 16, 2017
Stage

Verdi's 'Ballo' makes a fine debut for Opera Tampa's Daniel Lipton

TAMPA — Daniel Lipton, the new artistic director of Opera Tampa, got off to a good start with the first performance of his tenure, Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), Thursday at Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Opening the inaugural season of the Florida Opera Festival, it's a Verdi work last staged in these parts by Sarasota Opera more than 20 years ago. Lipton has assembled a fine cast to do it justice.

Of Verdi's 28 operas, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Otello and a few others are the mainstays, but Ballo shows off his gold standard for the art form as well as any. Set in colonial Boston (don't ask; the libretto was revised several times to mollify Italian censors in the 1850s), it's a tale of betrayal in which Riccardo, an impulsive count, falls in love with Amelia, wife of his best friend and secretary, Renato. The set from Cincinnati Opera is attractive with a particularly adept touch in the seamless transition from the count's study to the ballroom for the finale.

Riccardo is one of Verdi's best tenor roles, and John Pickle gave a smoothly sung interpretation, right from his Act 1 aria in which he alternates between musing on the responsibilities of rule ("Power is nothing if it cannot dry its subjects' tears") and lyrical tenderness at the thought of Amelia. At times, Pickle's low register became a bit muddy, but his ringing tone in high notes was thrilling.

One of the key relationships in Ballo is that of Riccardo and his page, Oscar, a pants role played by soprano Julia Koci, and the hand of director Robert Tannenbaum was evident in the lighthearted frivolity between them. The boyish Koci has a small voice, but her bursts of soaring vocal display, such as the high-spirited "Tra la la la" of Oscar's Act 3 ballad, came through loud and clear.

Michele Capalbo was in excellent, secure voice as Amelia, but she had trouble sustaining dramatic momentum in the atmospheric Act 2 scene (accompanied by English horn and lots of fog in the blue-green lighting) where she gathered herbs at midnight for a potion to cure her fever for Riccardo. Capalbo fared better in the love duet with Pickle's ardent count. As the wronged husband and friend, Mark Walters arrived at a suitably melancholy characterization in his performance that was both forceful and elegant, finding the Italianate legato lines in Renato's furious aria Eri tu.

Emilia Boteva was a bit obvious as the soothsayer Ulrica, writhing wildly under a spell, but her dusky mezzo-soprano was a vivid presence as she intoned Riccardo's fate. Normally Ulrica vanishes after her scene, but here she reappeared upstage at the end to witness her prophecy come true. The conspirators Tom and Samuel, sung by basses David Cushing and Kenneth Kellogg, had powerful moments, especially Kellogg. Frederick Jackson, as Silvano, led a hymn to Riccardo, and Kyle G. Stevens was an upright judge.

Lipton drew a strong performance from the 47-member orchestra (which featured a cimbasso, the so-called Verdi trombone, played by Jay Bertolet), and the score provided plenty of places for it to shine, such as the symphonic prelude to Act 2. Unfortunately, there was no onstage string band for the masked ball's mazurka, which was played from the pit. Dancers from Next Generation Ballet included a mime and ballerina on point. James K. Bass prepared the chorus well.

If Ballo gets Lipton and the new festival off on the right foot artistically, the scheduling this weekend (and for some subsequent productions) is oddly misconceived, with matinees today and Sunday. This will not go down well with opera singers, who are accustomed to at least a day of rest between performances.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Comments
Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

The theatrical tour about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. that Tavis Smiley was slated to bring to Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has been canceled in the wake sexual misconduct allegations against the broadcaster.Death...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
The Phantom never dies, orchestra doings this week

The Phantom never dies, orchestra doings this week

PHANTOM REDUX: LOVE NEVER DIESTurns out, the Phantom survived that angry mob. We know that because the antihero of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera re-emerges in the 2010 sequel, Love Never Dies.It opens in 1907 New York, w...
Published: 12/13/17
Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull.His voice doesn’t grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster. Shy win...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

ST. PETERSBURG — In some ways, the Florida Orchestra’s gala with Sting looked like other concerts of a mega-star. Most of the fans who packed the Mahaffey Theater bought their tickets the day they went on sale. They cheered and sang along at the open...
Published: 12/10/17
What’s on stage this week: Florida Orchestra happy hour concerts are back, Book of Mormon lottery

What’s on stage this week: Florida Orchestra happy hour concerts are back, Book of Mormon lottery

BACK ON TAP: HAPPY HOUR CONCERTSWith an opening year on the books, it looks like Happy Hour Concerts are here to stay. The Florida Orchestra figured last year it was time to create a user-friendly atmosphere geared to 9-to-5 commuters who could use t...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Live Oak Theatre Company presents Christmas show Dec. 15-16 in Brooksville

Live Oak Theatre Company presents Christmas show Dec. 15-16 in Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — Singing Christmas carols, listening to stories while sitting in front of the fireplace, watching twinkling Christmas lights. For many, these are the feelings that trigger memories of Christmases past.Such memories will be reignited when...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/09/17
Musical take on miserly classic

Musical take on miserly classic

Photo courtesy of Jimmy FerraroThe new Millennium Theatre Company will present a musical production of What in the Dickens Happened To Scrooge? weekends, Dec. 9-17, at 10005 Ridge Road, New Port Richey. Show times are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17
How to get $25 tickets to ‘Book of Mormon’ at the Straz Center

How to get $25 tickets to ‘Book of Mormon’ at the Straz Center

The Book of Mormon’s producers have made lower-priced tickets possible for a few lucky fans.To win a $25 ticket (that’s less than half of the starting price for seats), it’s safest to show up two and a half hours before curtain. One lottery entry per...
Published: 12/05/17
Orchestra delivers a stirring Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2

Orchestra delivers a stirring Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2

TAMPA — Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy a concert. I mean really, you can work yourself to death trying to figure out every nuance, as a critic or music aficionado. I don’t think Sergei Rachmaninoff, who described music as nonverbal po...
Published: 12/02/17
Our music critics wonder, how will Sting mesh with the Florida Orchestra?

Our music critics wonder, how will Sting mesh with the Florida Orchestra?

I was working construction the year Roxanne peaked on the Billboard charts and was playing all the time. With some of the more monotonous jobs, such as grading slabs, the radio is an important part of getting through it. I wasn’t into the Polic...
Updated one month ago