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Royal Opera House

SEEINGMaskarade a few days after the endurance test that is Wagner's Siegfried can seem like a bit of light relief, although this production of Carl Nielsen's family saga is a bit like indulging in LSD after a spliff.

The colours of Johan Engels' set, Act 2 being the exception, were so bright that a pair of Ray-Bans should have come attached to the programme.

The story is as simple as they come: boy (Leander) is supposed to marry girl (Leonora), Mr Leonard's daughter (Nielsen certainly didn't have to go far past the letter L in the alphabet or the vowels A, E and O to get the names for his principals), he has never met, but falls in love with someone at a masquerade. The fathers of the betrothed couple are not happy and try to get the wedding back on track. But, shock, horror as if we didn't see this coming about a minute into the opera, the boy and girl from the masquerade are the same two who were to get married.

The first act opens with Leander (Michael Schade) and his servant, Henrik (the superb Kyle Ketelsen), reliving the night before having just emerged from a long, satisfying sleep at five in the afternoon. They look forward to more of the same in the coming evening as they attempt some escape from Copenhagen's intemperate climate.

Jeronimus (Brindley Sherratt), Leander's father, insists that his son does not indulge in such decadence, unaware that his wife, Magdelone (Kari Hamnoy), also intends going. Jeronimus instructs his servant Arv (Adrian Thompson) to stop his son from leaving the house.

The street scene at the start of Act 2 has inventive staging with about half-a-dozen wardrobed-sized rooms around the stage as Henrik, disguised as a ghost, gets Arv, standing guard outside the Jeronimus' house, to confess his sins and blackmails him into letting them go to the masquerade.

It's a mystery of tension

When Leander meets his mystery girl (Emma Bell) they sing of love. Unfortunately the stage setting, the libretto and, one has to say, some rather bland music makes the whole thing look and sound like an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody. All we needed was Elaine Paige to come on and sing, "I know him so well".

The Dance of the Vanities dominates Act 3, well, alongside the Technicolor stage. This is followed by a pantomime of the Fidelity of Mars, Venus and Vulcan. The master of ceremonies, played by the man of many parts, the excellent Martin Winkler, oversees both dances. The revellers are then instructed to remove their masks. Jeronimus sees Magdelone with Mr Leonard and then Leander with Leonora. Jeronimus, though, is so drunk and overjoyed by Leonora being Mr Leonard's daughter that he is immediately forgiving at his wife's appearance at the masquerade.

Composed 100 years ago, Maskarade is a tale of tension between the generations, particularly father and son, which has emerged from every decade since throughout the world.

Michael Schonwandt is probably as familiar with the score as anyone and conducted with the energy it demands, while David Poutney's translation is as good as any opera translated in English, although his direction in the third act probably suffers from the confusion that set in for Nielsen while he was writing it.

Review by Peter Wilson

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