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Behind The Scenes: San Diego Opera's 'A Masked Ball'

The Act 3 Finale of San Diego Opera's "A Masked Ball."
Ken Howard
The Act 3 Finale of San Diego Opera's "A Masked Ball."

Spoiler Alert: I'm Going To Tell You How Verdi's Opera Ends

Behind the Scenes: San Diego Opera's "A Masked Ball"
Behind The Scenes: San Diego Opera’s ‘A Masked Ball’
Verdi’s "A Masked Ball" is an opera famous for its finale and -- SPOILER ALERT -- I'm going to tell you how it ends.

A Masked Ball

Saturday, March 8, 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday March 11, 7:00 p.m.

Friday, March 14, 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 16, 2:00 p.m.

Verdi’s "A Masked Ball" is an opera famous for its finale and -- SPOILER ALERT -- I'm going to tell you how it ends.

Okay, San Diego Opera's production of Verdi's "A Masked Ball" ends with a murder. But that’s not revealing too much because Verdi turned to history and the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden for the basis of his story. But Verdi doesn’t focus on the politics of the conspiracy but rather on the human elements.

"This is really a story about three people who are immensely fond of one another," says director Lesley Koenig, "And through a series of completely human foibles, some misdeeds, and some terrible misunderstandings, destroy a monarchy. And there’s a soothsayer that tells the king that he’ll die by the hand of his best friend and in fact King Gustav of Sweden did."

Renato is the man who ends up killing the king.

"Fortunately in this production we don’t see him really as a villain," says Greek baritone Aris Argiris who plays Renato, "He is a personality that is broken. At least the development of the character through the opera guides him to this because he’s a person that is really faithful, he’s a faithful husband, a faithful friend, he lives under these strong values of friendship, family, love, emotions, and this is what is really breaking him at the end."

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala plays King Gustav.

"He’s a politician, a king, with some private problems, he’s in love with a wrong woman," explains Piotr Beczala , "And actually he tries to handle it somehow like a man. But the end of the opera is very tragic. My friend, who is the man of this woman, kills me. And that’s the story’s end."

And ending to which Verdi builds beautifully.

"It’s some of the most accessible, most beautiful music I have ever heard," Koenig says, "The ensembles and the arias are breathtaking, one after the next. We wait and at the end of the opera then there’s those 11 bars and a quarter note my assistant and I just cry, right before that scene happens he just hands back a box of Kleenex."

"The finale is really amazing," Argiris says, "It is maybe one of the most beautiful musics written, especially for the tenor because he has his last beautiful aria, but let’s put it this way the development or the evolution of the musical composition in the last minute is amazing you see a palate of colors and emotions going through ending I don’t think there will be an artist or singing in this scene not grabbed by this."

Polis tenor Piotr Beczala is King Gustav III in San Diego Opera's "A Masked Ball."
Ken Howard
Polis tenor Piotr Beczala is King Gustav III in San Diego Opera's "A Masked Ball."

"It’s written in the score," Koenig explains, "Verdi didn’t know how to express and I’ve never seen it any place else in a Verdi score, it starts out 'sotto voce,' so softly sung that he wrote sotto voce extremamente, extremely sotto voce, I’ve never seen anything like that before. It starts out with the whole chorus singing so softly and then it builds to this huge crescendo where you think you are just going to die but what’s better than that is the King has been stabbed by his best friend who thinks that the King is in love with his wife and they are sort of in love but they never did anything really bad so the King in this moment forgives everyone for what he has done, Renato and other conspirators, he forgives all of them and this is right after he’s been stabbed and the clemency, that clemency is written over those bars in that way.. my skin gets all just thinking about it…. so it’s literally a combination of the turn of events, with something that begins sotto voce extremamenteand goes to fortissimo sotto voce in 11 bars."

And in that ending the opera movies from darkness into the light says Argiris:"We see light at the end, not always this terrible dramatic end of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi that people dying all the time, tenor dies, soprano dies, 500 people die and all dying and everybody must go crying home, in this we see the hope, the element of hope that after a certain dramatic event there is still hope in the love between this man and Renato I like because it makes sense. In the sadness you see there is still something coming out of this, there is something beautiful coming out."

Koenig says it's "the perfect fusion of the right word with the note of music in the right rhythm with the right syncopation with the orchestra with the lighting cues with a great story underneath the whole thing what’s more fun than that."

And don’t think that just because you know how “A Masked Ball” ends there’s nothing to look forward to when going to a performance.

"It’s live," Koenig points put, "so there’s something about seeing, experiencing it with a room of people that is a construct in time such that that moment will never happen again and you experience it with these other people and it will never be the same again and so having that experience of live theater nothing matches it."