Opera assassins come to MK Theatre for a masked ball of intrigue and murder

Tristan Hambleton in Un Ballo in MascheraTristan Hambleton in Un Ballo in Maschera
Tristan Hambleton in Un Ballo in Maschera

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A night of royal grandeur, intrigue and murder awaits Milton Keynes’ audiences as the Welsh National Opera heralds its arrival with Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera on Wednesday.

One of Verdi’s treasured, and less staged, masterpieces, the opera’s plot surrounds the assassination of the flamboyant King Gustav III of Sweden at a masked ball in 1792.

For bass-baritone performer Tristan Hambleton, who plays one of the assassins, Count Horn, this particular opera has a special irony as he first saw it performed in the very palace where King Gustav met his grisly fate.

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“My brother was playing with the Swedish Opera and I went to see it,” Tristan recalls. “He was playing in the orchestra there in the actual opera house where Gustav III was assassinated.

“It was not quite the same building as it had since been rebuilt, but it was more or less the same spot!”

Spectators can expect scenes of luxury and decadence to accompany Verdi’s sinister opera, which was heavily censored for decades by the ruling classes due its depiction of regicide.

“We’re in capes and top hats, creeping around velvet curtains a lot! The music is very dark, and there’s a lot of sumptuousness - this production really plays on that.

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“We’re very excited to bring it to Milton Keynes. It’s one of the great things about doing a run of shows, we have a very intensive rehearsal process and all of that comes out in the concert. In this case, we’ve had six months in the studio.

“We completed a run in Cardiff and we’ve also been to some smaller theatres, where you can really feel the warmth of the audience’s reaction.”

Tristan himself has operatic blood in his veins, his father Hale and grandfather Wilfred both played clarinet, the former with the English National Opera for over 40 years.

And while he has embarked on a career as bass-baritone singer, Tristan is keen not to draw too much of a distinction between their paths.

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He said: “Theres an idea sometimes that the real musicians play instruments, while the singers are less technical, but actually we have to be. That’s because we cannot practice our instrument, our voice, for hours at a time.

“Probably the most immediate thing is my family understand what it means to be a musician and the ins and outs of it every day.

“My dad’s idea of baby-sitting was having me in the corner of a room while they were having an orchestral rehearsal and as a child, I’d have fun running around the theatre – it was completely normal!”

And as for the future, Tristan said: “One of the exciting things about being a singer is that we graduate on to bigger pieces, bigger roles, and I’m really looking forward to that. I love Mozart, and I love the parts of Figaro and Don Giovanni – they are some of the most spectacular nights out at the theatre.”

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Un Ballo in Maschera plays at Milton Keynes Theatre on Wednesday, March 27, see here for tickets.

Welsh National Opera will also stage Mozart’s The Magic Flute (see here) on Thursday, and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux (see here) on Friday.