Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). 2020 — Cultural content

“The hero, fate and redemption”

Un ballo in maschera is one of Verdi’s operas whose breathless plot keeps audiences on the edge of their seat as they follow the time-honoured twists and turns at the heart of classical tragedy. The hero dies to prove the value of honour. Verdi becomes more relevant than ever and takes us on a journey through passion, hate, love, revenge and fate.

The production of Un ballo in maschera at Varna Opera House brings together all the elements of classical opera to tell this fateful tale in a stripped-down version that gets the message across clearly and precisely. The playwriting conveys Verdi’s voice directly without any sleights of hand, and the musical direction has the same goal in mind: to uphold the best traditions and values of Verdi’s work.

On stage, a large triangle representing earthly powers hangs over the characters and serves as Ulrica’s platform for prophesising the tragic ending. The central gash, the door through which fate observes us, becomes a terrible, powerful pivot that exterminates passion and love.

Riccardo, Amelia and Renato form another triangle whose end Ulrica also foresees. Try as they might to ignore the bad omens, the characters and audience are inevitably crushed by the sheer weight of the story.

In this production, the chorus acts as the audience’s messenger and the harbinger of the final tragedy, to which Riccardo and Amelia remain blind. As it moves across the stage, the chorus is often closer to the audience than to the characters and is able to give us valuable insights that leave us in no doubt of what awaits.

A very different outcome awaits poor Ulrica: like the ill-fated Cassandra, she tries desperately to warn Riccardo and Amelia of their fate but to no avail.

Un ballo in maschera is a story about remaining true to yourself and seeing your emotions through to their final consequences. It offers no judgement on the different characters, whose strength of commitment to their values propels the story onwards to its inevitable conclusion.

With his dying breath, however, the hero dispels any desire for revenge. Riccardo steers the story to the same denouement as Aeschylus’ Oresteia: justice and goodness triumph over irrationality and the thirst for revenge.

In our production, as the narrative arc comes to a close, Ulrica walks towards us, as the characters and the chorus utter a revealing warning: “Never tempt fate. A mother’s voice should be heard and respected.”

Here, Riccardo’s effort and devotion symbolise the energy of all opera professionals worldwide who are giving their all to save the world of art, which has never been so important and yet remains dreadfully undervalued by part of society. Embodied in the passion and devotion that drive the whole team at Varna Opera House, art is a treasure to be cherished. At this time of crisis, there is little doubt that Riccardo is the voice we should listen to if we are to escape the darkness of barbarity.

Commissioned by: Varna Opera House

Location: Varna, Bulgaria

Conductor: Krastin Nastev

Playwright, direction and set designer: Ignasi Cristià

Costumes: Iago Blasi

Lighting: Jose Castelló

© Photograpy: Rosen Donev