Miami Lyric Opera offers a vibrant, semi-staged “Un Ballo”

By Lawrence Budmen

Giuseppe Verdi's "Un ballo in maschera" (A Masked Ball) was performed Saturday night in a semi-staged version by Miami Lyric Opera.

Giuseppe Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera” (A Masked Ball) was performed Saturday night in a semi-staged version by Miami Lyric Opera.

A rain-drenched South Florida weekend probably contributed to more than a few empty seats at Miami Lyric Opera’s concert version of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) Saturday night at Miami Beach’s Colony Theater. This was doubly unfortunate  because the performance delivered plenty of Italianate fervor, greatly aided by the presence of a conductor with major league operatic credentials.

Originally planned as a fully-staged production, this Verdi performance was scaled back to a modest semi-staging with the singers in mostly formal attire. The performance utilized the Boston version of Antonio Somma’s libretto with its quaint mix of American references and characters with Italian names.  There were some cuts to speed the performance along, mostly in the first act.

Once an assistant to Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm, Imre Pallo has conducted at the Met, San Francisco and opera houses in Berlin, Frankfurt and Leipzig. Working with a reduced 26-piece orchestra, Pallo brought a firm hand and energetic thrust to the entire performance. The ominous introduction to the scene at the fortune teller Ulrica’s hut was hair-raising and Pallo drew balanced, secure singing from the small chorus as the governor’s courtiers.

The tenor role of the governor Riccardo is both lengthy and taxing but Jorge Pita Carreras (formerly Jorge Antonio Pita) was more than equal to the task. His ringing high notes were free of strain and he displayed a fluid cantabile line, the soft tones honeyed and beautiful. He assayed  the Barcarolle with just the right balance of lightness and vigor and deftly carried off the vocal laughter at the fortune teller Ulrica’s prophecy of Riccardo’s doom. His death scene was rendered with supple tone and refined emotion.

As Amelia, the Puerto Rican soprano Rosa D’Imperio took some time to warm up. Her high notes were shrill in Amelia’s initial scene with Ulrica but she rose to the love duet, singing with full voiced passion and displaying a richly colored middle register.  Amelia’s plea to her husband “Morro, ma prima in grazia” was deeply moving, the leaps between registers smoothly negotiated.

Giancarlo Brunet unfurled a bass-baritone of warmth and strength as Amelia’s husband Renato.  His first aria was finely shaded but “Eri tu” was beset by uncertain pitch and a constricted top range. Still Brunet is a promising singer who potently conveyed the conflicted mood swings of the governor’s trusted friend.

Italian mezzo Benedetta Orsi brought a gutsy chest voice, striking stage presence and ample power in the lowest extremes to Ulrica’s  proclamations. As the page Oscar, Julie-Ann Hamula’s well-schooled soubrette, captivating  personality and pinpoint coloratura riveted attention. Enrique Estrada and Eric Dobkin were firm of voice and appropriately sinister as the conspirators Sam and Tom and Gibson Dorce made the most of his brief scene as the sailor Silvano.

Despite some raucous orchestral playing and uneven vocalism, this Ballo was more than the sum of its parts. Conducted with authority and replete with vibrant singing, this idiomatic performance vividly illustrated why Raffaele Cardone’s spunky alternative opera company plays an indispensable role in South Florida’s vocal offerings.

Miami Lyric Opera repeats Un Ballo in Maschera  4 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.; 305-674-1040.

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Sun Sep 21, 2014
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