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The action all takes place behind a slightly skew picture frame, even the surtitle screen (yes, surtitles even for sung English) is aligned to the frame not to the horizontal. Act 1 takes place in Jeronimus's house in Copenhagen. As realised by Johan Engels, it is stark and stylish, half white and half black with a row of doors filling the rear stage. Doors feature in all the sets for all three acts. Jeronimus's son Leander (Michael Schade) and his servant Henrik (Kyle Ketelsen) are just waking up having been to last night's masquerade and plan to go again tonight. Leander's mother Magdelone (Kari Hamnoy) is curious about the masquerade and fancies going herself but his father Jeronimus (Brindley Sherratt) forbids Leander to go out again and sets the servant Arv (Adrian Thompson) to watch the door to prevent them going out.

The result is action which Nielsen whips up into a wonderfully frenetic finale, beautifully handled by all the singers and conductor Michael Schonwandt. Unfortunately, Pountney has chosen to emphasis the frenetic aspects of the opera and utilises all the doors as if orchestrating a Whitehall farce.

One of the changes that Nielsen and his librettist made to Holberg's play was to add the role of Colonel Mors (Death) who closes the masquerade at the end of Act 3. Pountney has boosted this role by having the same singer, Mark Richardson, sing four other smaller roles and keep reoccurring in the action as death. To balance death, there is Richard Gauntlett as a scruffy cupid in a black tutu, looking like a refugee from an Adventures in Motion Pictures dance event.

Richard Gauntlett as Cupid in Nielsen's 'Maskarade'. Photo © 2005 Bill Cooper
Richard Gauntlett as Cupid in Nielsen's 'Maskarade'. Photo © 2005 Bill Cooper

Act 2 is a series of encounters by which Leander, his servant, his father, his mother, servant Arv, their neighbour Leonard (Robin Leggate) and his daughter Leonora (Emma Bell) all end up at the masquerade. Jeronimus wants Leander to marry Leonard's daughter sight unseen, but Leander has fallen in love with a girl at the masquerade, in fact the two girls are the same one, Leonora. The highlight of Act 2 is the wondrous love duet for Leander and his unknown beloved (Emma Bell). Again, doors feature in this act and cupid has rather too much to do. One of Nielsen's masterstrokes is to open and close the act with the night watchman's song (Mark Richardson, displaying rather too much vibrato for comfort in Nielsen's long lines). But at the close the song is undercut with the music from the masquerade itself.

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Copyright © 5 October 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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