Masked Ball: Great singing, familiar plot

King Gustav III of Sweden wasn't the world's best-loved monarch; he was assassinated in 1792 after seizing power from noblemen and diminishing democracy.

Not really much of a story; powerful leaders often are rewarded with lead.  But if you put Gustav's story in the hands of an Italian composer, say Giuseppe Verdi, add in the king's best friend's wife and you end up with a story, "The Masked Ball."

Madison Opera is performing Verdi's 1859 masterpiece this weekend at the Overture Center.

It is a strong performance, featuring magnificent voices, classical staging and, for the second and third acts, at least, good pacing.

The story, as Verdi retells it, is that Gustav is in love with Amelia, the wife of his best friend, Count Anckarstrom. He is also facing the plot of the noblemen to assassinate him.  Anckarstrom finds out about the affair – which may or may not really be an affair – and joins the plot to kill his friend.

So far, so good.

The part of Gustav is sung by William Joyner, who sang most recently in the Madison Opera's performance of Galileo Galilie. Hyung Yun, a Madison Opera favorite, sings the role of Anckarstrom and Alexandra LoBianco, a soprano the opera's artistic director, John DeMain, discovered in Seattle, sings the role of Amelia.

They all do good work.

Now, here's the problem: the opera really isn't compelling.  That's not Verdi's fault.  He composed the work before anyone ever heard of King Edward and Wallace Simpson, or of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, or, for that matter, of Bill Clinton or of Newt Gingrich.

But we have and the idea of a politician betrayed by those he trusts and betraying those who trust him isn't really shocking to us anymore.

"The Masked Ball" is grand opera and the classical sets and period costumes would, in other situations, be a relief.  But this opera could probably use a new production to make it seem less yesterday.

Still, it is Verdi and that counts for something.

One special treat of this production is Caitlin Cisler, who sings the relatively minor role of Oscar, the king's page.  She has a wonderful, bell-like voice and adds joy to the stage just by being on it.

"The  Masked Ball" will be performed again Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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