Florida Grand Opera delivers a powerful and memorable “Rigoletto”
With several famous arias and a fast-moving plot of medieval seduction, kidnapping and revenge, Verdi’s Rigoletto has long ranked among the world’s most popular operas.
Florida Grand Opera’s production, which opened Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami, offered everything one could want in a production of this work — brilliant performances in starring roles, stirring orchestral playing, assured stage direction and opulent sets — all coming together for a powerful evening of opera.
The opera tells the story of the hunchbacked jester Rigoletto, forced to entertain the frivolous nobles and useless hangers-on in the court of the Duke of Mantua. When Rigoletto learns that the Duke has seduced his daughter Gilda, he sets out on a quest for revenge that leads horribly and inevitably to catastrophe.
As the amoral Duke of Mantua — northern Italy’s answer to Don Giovanni — the young American tenor Michael Fabiano was just about perfect. He has the handsome looks, dashing arrogance, and most importantly, the voice to carry off the role of the Duke— a man capable of making women fall in love with him and then tossing each aside to move on to the next conquest.
Fabiano’s voice has an exciting urgency and lots of ping, just the sort of voice needed for Questo o Quella, to which he brought brilliant high notes, and La donna è mobile, although on opening night he was showing some wear by the third act. In his duets with the Countess Ceprano and with Gilda, Fabiano achieved a poisonous blend of seductiveness and danger that fit the role exactly.
Mark Walters, who portrayed Rigoletto, is an FGO favorite, having appeared in previous productions of La Traviata, Carmen and Lucia di Lammermoor. The role of Rigoletto is the most human, complex and poignant in the opera, a deformed man in a jester’s costume, trying desperately to save his daughter while plotting revenge on the people for whom he must perform every day.
Walters brought a golden voice to the part, singing with terrifying anger as he savors murdering the Duke, and moving eloquence as he falls to his knees before the Duke’s friends and begs them to return his daughter. The baritone movingly portrayed the struggles of a man confronting the good and evil in his own nature, as with Pari siamo in which he realizes the common ground he shares with the murderer Sparafucile.
The role of Gilda went to Fort Lauderdale native Nadine Sierra, a soprano in the Adler program for young artists at San Francisco Opera. In her company debut, she brought a gleaming voice to the role of Rigoletto’s innocent daughter. In Caro Nome, she dreamily spun out Verdi’s coloratura, never showing any effort as she moved about the stage, singing much of the difficult aria lying flat on her back. Particularly successful were her duets with Walters, as she reacted to her father’s story of hardship in a voice radiant with love and compassion.
Kevin Langan, who is well known to South Florida audiences, was a menacing Sparafucile, the professional assassin who offers to solve Rigoletto’s problem with the Duke. In opera everyone talks about high notes, but Sparafucile’s most impressive note is a low F at the end of his sinister dialogue with Rigoletto, and Langan’s deep bass sustained the note memorably as he strode off the stage.
As Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena, mezzo-soprano Dana Beth Miller was a standout, pleading movingly and in rich tones for her brother to spare the Duke’s life and more than holding up her end in the celebrated quartet. As Count Monterone, the baritone Joo Won Kang sang with patriarchal power and dignity as he defended his own daughter and called down a curse upon Rigoletto.
The Cincinnati Opera production was generally traditional, with effective depictions of the Duke’s court, Rigoletto’s home and the lair of the murderer Sparafucile. Constructed of dark materials, with stone staircases, huge candelabras and other medieval touches, the darkly lit sets provided a suitable setting for Verdi’s drama. Among the unusual touches was the attention given to Rigoletto’s uncovered hump, no doubt a masterpiece of stage makeup, but a fairly unattractive sight that did little to enhance the beauty or drama of the work.
Stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman has mastered an art beyond the powers of many directors: how to bring sexuality onto the stage without descending into crudeness. He showed the debauchery of the Duke’s court with seductive dancing girls that suggested lasciviousness without overdoing it. From conversations at intermission, not everyone was thrilled at seeing the Duke sing Ella mi fu rapita while avoiding the irritating caresses of two scantily clad young women, but it showed the cynical Duke feeling the stirrings of love while still mired in the carnality he had created.
Under FGO associate conductor Andrew Bisantz, the orchestra gave a fiery, full-throated Verdi performance. From the somber brass tones of the prelude, Bisantz drew vigorous sounds from the orchestra, with brisk tempos — possibly too brisk at times — rising to the moments of great drama, such as Monterone’s march to prison and the grave prelude to the scene at Sparafucile’s house.
There were a surprising number of empty seats for an opening night. This is FGO’s ninth production of Rigoletto since 1948, but while it’s an opera you’ll undoubtedly have the chance to hear again in the future, rarely will you experience Verdi’s drama performed with such a consistently excellent cast as in this current production.
Florida Grand Opera’s Rigoletto runs through Feb. 11 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and Feb. 16-18 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. fgo.org, 800-741-1010.
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Sun Jan 29, 2012
at 2:31 pm