A new look for 'A Masked Ball'

Verdi's "A Masked Ball" makes an appropriately grand choice for Washington National Opera's season opener. It's a big-gesture work with terrific sweep, yet one with many a subtle musical and dramatic detail.

The composer was forced by government censors to turn the opera's plot about the assassination of Sweden's King Gustavus III into an unlikely scenario set in Colonial Boston. But like some other companies these days, WNO restores the original Swedish setting.

Although Salvatore Licitra doesn't always use his sizable tenor gracefully, his singing as Gustavus has a certain visceral appeal. As Amelia, the woman on the verge of a fling with the king despite being his best friend's wife, Tamara Wilson gives a stellar performance. Her secure, silvery soprano and richly expressive phrasing generate remarkable emotional power.

Luca Salsi (Renato) pushes his voice hard, but the forcefulness pays off at times. If Elena Manistina (Ulrica) sounds a little light, her sure, nuanced singing impresses. Micaela Oeste is vocally and theatrically engaging as Oscar. Chorus and orchestra are in sturdy form. Conductor Daniele Callegari drives the opera along to mostly satisfying effect.

Allen Moyer's set is a little drab and James Robinson's direction gets a little silly at times (shouldn't chairs and puppets be banished from opera stages by now?), but this "Masked Ball" still makes quite an impact.

The opera will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Sunday and three more times through Sept 25 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. N.W., Washington. Tickets are $25 to $300. Call 202-295-2400 or go to dc-opera.org. Sunday's matinee will also be simulcast live at Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol St. S.E. Free admission. For more information, go to operaintheoutfield.org.

—Tim Smith

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