Canopies flapped on a blustery June night but nothing could shake this scintillating new production out of its stride. Working against imposing yet fluid wood-panel designs by her fellow countryman takis, the Greek director Rodula Gaitanou has made OHP’s intractably wide stage seem like a walk in the park.

Anne Sophie Duprels (Amelia) and Matteo Lippi (Gustavo) © Ali Wright
Anne Sophie Duprels (Amelia) and Matteo Lippi (Gustavo)
© Ali Wright

Her staging of Un ballo in maschera is one of the company’s finest, so much so that last year’s memorable La traviata now seems like a dress rehearsal for the main event. This is a director who understands how to use three dimensions, how to energise characters, how to create convincing stage logic from improbable situations and how to guide the eye of her audience through a busy expanse of space. None of these things happen by chance, as the company’s confused new Manon Lescaut demonstrated earlier in the week. They require an eye that’s steeped in operatic stagecraft and the kind of aesthetic sensibility that enables her, for example, to think of masks as recurring symbols of human secretiveness, from fencing helmets to travelling disguises to the faces at a masked ball.

Benjamin Bevan (Ribbing), Anne Sophie Duprels (Amelia) and George von Bergen (Anckarström) © Ali Wright
Benjamin Bevan (Ribbing), Anne Sophie Duprels (Amelia) and George von Bergen (Anckarström)
© Ali Wright

The scenario for Ballo was inspired by the real-life assassination of King Gustavo III of Sweden at a court ball, although the Neapolitan censors of his day obliged Verdi to relocate his opera to a non-regal setting so character names were revised and the location transposed to an American governorship. Either way, Verdi’s habitual pattern – tenor loves soprano and baritone is their nemesis – still applies.

Opera Holland Park has reverted to the original version in a production set in palatial rooms somewhere in generic Modern-Dressland, and has treated it to as excellent a cast as you’ll find this side of a grand opera house. Beyond the purely visual aspect of her work, Gaitanou’s direction of the singers is so exact that it becomes impossible to separate them from their characters, hence Matteo Lippi sang the doomed King Gustavo with a sensational Italianate idiom – every bit as good as today’s tenor superstars and better than some – while house favourite Anne Sophie Duprels drew on all her experience of playing tortured souls to deliver a vocally lucent Amelia. The pair's dramatic duet “Teco io sto” practically caught fire. As Anckarström, her husband and best friend of the King, baritone George von Bergen sang at a level beyond anything I’ve heard from him before. The voice was evenly produced and controlled, and he used it to power a complex of intense emotions.

Alison Langer (Oscar) © Ali Wright
Alison Langer (Oscar)
© Ali Wright

Alison Langer’s cheeky factotum Oscar and Rosalind Plowright’s imperious sorceress Madame Arvidson were superbly defined, adding juice to the melodrama and singing with absolute conviction despite the silliness of their roles. Benjamin Bevan and John Savournin trod a fine line between comedy and darkness as the two would-be assassins, Ribbing and Horn, and there was a predictably strong cameo from Ross Ramgobin as the impecunious sailor Cristiano.

Rosalind Plowright (Madame Arvidson) © Ali Wright
Rosalind Plowright (Madame Arvidson)
© Ali Wright

The City of London Sinfonia played Verdi’s epic score with effervescent brightness and a full-bodied bloom under Matthew Kofi Waldren, while the indefatigable OHP Chorus, prepared by Richard Harker and on thrilling form, undertook everything asked of it from fencing to ballroom dancing, all the while giving the score a thorough workout. The mocking chorus that closes Act 2 dripped with vigour and virulence in a production that reminded me just how much I love this opera. If ever a staging deserved to have a life beyond the festival, this is it. Me, I’d slap a preservation order on it.

*****