The tragic beauty of one of Giuseppe Verdi’s finest opera takes the stage to conclude the 2012/2013 opera season at The Lyric Opera Baltimore. Celebrating Verdi’s bicentennial birthday it seems most fitting that Verdi’s finest tragedy, Rigoletto, be the production of choice. Directed by John Hoomes with Orchestral Conduction provided by Richard Buckley, this epic story of a father’s love for his daughter will swoop into your heart for a truly moving experience. A deformed jester that holds a place in the court of the libidinous Duke of Mantua lives only to love his beautiful daughter. Despite Rigoletto’s best efforts to keep the lovely Gilda sheltered from the world she is swept away and seduced by the duke, only to then be abandoned by him. Sworn for revenge Rigoletto sets a scheme in motion that results in horrific tragedy, ruining his life. This passionate, moving opera is emotionally charged and one of the finest Lyric Opera Baltimore has offered this season.
Scenic Designer Allan Charles Klein draws us into the rich and haughty world of the Duke of Mantua with his elaborate set construction. The enormous stone staircases and statuary give the setting both a sense of foreboding and grandeur. When the scenery shifts to become the fortress of solitude where Rigoletto stashes his daughter those very same stones become a stronghold with a feeling of safety built into their architecture. Klein lives up to the operatic standard of larger than life sets, echoing the sentiment of the overly dramatic emotions one often finds in such a classical stirring piece.
Conducting the Orchestra is Richard Buckley; a talented man who coaxes driving tidal waves of emotion from the score. The overture sets the tone for the production; forlorn and slightly ominous, hints of unease burbling in the brass horns as the curtain slowly takes to rising, clashing quickly into a festival of merriment without ever losing that subtle undertone of malaise. Buckley’s grand success is heard in Act III as the orchestra mimics the pending storm; the strings and horns becoming the voice of the moaning wind, the flutes a mockery of lightning. Such stunning sounds echo up from this orchestra throughout the entire piece, truly guiding the audience on an emotional journey that parallels the deep passion with which the performers sing their ballads and arias.
An opera is destined for tragedy when early on a curse is laid upon all whom are listening. Count Monterone (Matthew Treviño) gives us this untimely pox in with a dark sound of severity. Treviño fills out the robust sound of the baritone character here with a perfectly tuned polish to his voice. Doubling up later as Sparafucile, the merciless assassin, Treviño’s voice slides deeply into the bass range, providing a glorious sound for all to hear during his encounter with Rigoletto, A bold and boisterous sounding voice that repeats itself over and over in Act III when the assassin is encountered once more, first in scenes with his sister then again with Rigoletto; a superior sound if ever there was one to be heard from a bass.
Of course fueling the fires of tragedy is love, however false or true, and this opera is no exception. The Duke of Mantua (Bryan Hymel) is a hearty character, bent in a similar frame to that of Don Juan, a salacious lover who intends to conquer anything of beauty. Hymel’s ebullient tenor voice does the rogue a great justice for numbers like “Questa o Quella” when trying to debate which woman to conquer next. The infamous “La donna è mobile” is given a rousing rendition filled with arrogant splendor, making you loathe the Duke all the more.
Despite his character’s arrogance, Hymel does have a much softer vocal side when pairing in duet with Gilda (Norah Amsellem). “E il sol dell’anima” echoes the sentiments of a true love ballad, both Amsellem and Hymel’s voices twining together in perfect harmony, exuding the passions of their love for one another as the song carries on. As their voices ascend the romantic heights of this number the orchestra underscores it with dulcet swells of mesmerizing music letting the purity of love transcend their existence together on the stage. Amsellem is a passionate and proper soprano with an unbelievable upper range, bringing tears to your eyes in her final song “V’ho ingannato” an aria given to her father with every ounce of strength she has. But her most sensational aria comes at the end of Act I when she is stricken by the arrows of Cupid, truly madly deeply in love, “Gualtier Maldè!… Caro nome.” The inner musings of her emotions come pouring out like gossamer threads into this aria and it brings the audience to a standing ovation.
Verdi is known for his quartets and perhaps his most famous is found right within the confines of Act III, “Bella figlia dell’amore” bringing sublime harmonies together for an aural nirvana that truly pierces the soul with perfection. Hymel and Amsellem are joined by Maddalena (Jennifer Feinstein) and Rigoletto (Stephen Powell) for this enchanting number; each bringing their own streak of powerful emotions to the intricately woven ballad. With Powell spewing vehement vengeance, Amsellem heartbroken, Hymel mid-seduction and Feinstein turning out cheeky rejection this moment of sheer vocal brilliance is the defining moment of the production.
Powell is a versatile emotionally expressive baritone that plays an exceptional Rigoletto. His physical approach to the character’s deformity allows the audience to easily empathize with him, even sympathize with him, longing for his life to be better. Powell’s ability to quick change from venting bile and harsh anger in “Cortigiani! Vil razza dannata!” to a humbled and desperate man pleading for mercy in “Miei signore…perdono,pietate…” is astonishing. His vocal prowess brings forth a storm of emotions that rivals the storm brewing in Act III and his character’s overall stage presence is beyond impressive. A stunning performance given; the title character receiving all the justice due of such an iconic and richly complex creation.
This limited engagement plays only 2 performances, so be sure to get your tickets quickly.
Running Time: Approximately Three hours, with two intermissions.
Rigoletto plays tomorrow at 3:00 PM at The Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric — 110 West Mount Royale Avenue, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (410) 900-1150 or purchase them online.