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Culture Watch: Purple, green and blood red

The New Orleans Opera production of 'A Masked Ball,' shown in rehearsal above, is being reset in the Crescent City.

In New Orleans, you don’t have to be of Italian heritage to love opera — although, if you are, you might have grown up hearing your grandparents whistling some of the famous arias from familiar operas by beloved “old country” composers like Rossini or Verdi.

For the rest of us, who also love the over-the-top grandness of grand opera, we not only expect to revel in its dramatic theatrical traditions, but also cherish every note sung and played. We have long since accepted, with a pinch of salt to be sure, the often incredible (in the dictionary sense of that word) plot lines, all the while appreciating each production’s splendid sets and sumptuous costumes.

On the other hand, opera fanatics, no matter what their cultural heritage, are known to scrutinize every aspect of each production, with many of them prone to highly vocal opinions. So I can’t wait to hear what they will have to say about this weekend’s presentation of Guiseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) presented by the New Orleans Opera Association.

Fans of this famous opera know that because of concerns by 19th century Italian censors about the plot’s on-stage killing of a Swedish king, Verdi was forced to change the venue several times during its creation. Ultimately, he chose to place it in colonial Boston; yes, I know it’s a bit of a mind stretch. But, really, we’ve learned to go with the flow.

Now Robert Lyall, General Director of the New Orleans Opera, has gone one further. He has moved the locale from Boston to New Orleans. And to add to his Crescent City connection, he has brought back one of the country’s great tenors, native son Paul Groves, in the role of Riccardo.

Verdi's opera, in rehearsal here, will culminate in a Carnival ball.

Lyall maintains that there’s enough intrigue and drama in our exotic community to hold up in any production. After all, he says, we may not have kings and earls, but we have had governors of dubious morality, voudou priestesses instead of fortune-tellers, lots of masked balls and some seriously documented contention among the early Spanish and German, French and American citizens.

And what could be more appropriate than a tragic conclusion set at a Mardi Gras Ball?

I have no idea exactly where this operatic masked ball is going to be held, but of one thing I’m pretty sure: It’s not likely to be in a hotel on Canal Street.

For more information about Un Ballo in Maschero at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in ArmstrongPark this Friday at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 go to or call 504-529-3000.

Sharon Litwin, president of NolaVie, writes Culture Watch weekly.





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