The production of Carl Nielsen’s comic opera Maskarade at the Royal Opera is the most brilliant we have seen there for a long time, spectacularly so. It’s a pity that the opera itself doesn’t live up to the treatment it receives, but it’s just about good enough not to let the production down badly. Maskarade seems to draw inspiration from the three great operatic comic ‘F’s, Figaro, Falstaff, Fledermaus.
From Figaro we get the figure of the resourceful and agreeably socially disruptive servant, Henrik, performed extremely well by Kyle Ketelsen. From Falstaff we get an intransigent and morose oldster determined that the younger generation shall do what he wants and thus be as miserable as he is. This is the hero’s father, Jeronimus, played with gloomy élan but not enough voice by Brindley Sherratt. And from Fledermaus the central sequence of the masked ball, where members of a family fool one another and are made fools of, and a series of dances, ending in the chill light of dawn, when reality strikes. Reality here takes not merely the form of hangovers, but also of Corporal Mors himself, with a coffin, into which he gets the guests to throw their disguises. That makes a powerful end to the piece: we are given a chill reminder of the end not only of any ball but also of all fun. But since it’s a comedy, the main thing is that the young lovers succeed in thwarting their parents, at the same time as they find, delightedly, that they are in fact just the pair that their parents had wanted them to be. So everyone is happy and mildly abashed. For good Wagnerian measure we have a Nightwatchman, Martin Winkler (also Mors and two other characters), who announces the hour in quivering tones such as his prototype in Meistersinger is instructed to do.