Outlook classically Italian with 'Rigoletto'
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By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
All-Italian — and a tad tardy.
That's the outlook for Hawaii Opera Theatre's 2006 season, launching tonight at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
"The all-Italian season is by design," said Henry Akina, general and artistic director of HOT. "The later start was because the hall had some dates (to fulfill) and we simply adapted, to start in February (instead of January)."
The season begins with "Rigoletto" by Verdi, continues Feb. 24 with three one-acts, dubbed "Il Trittico," by Puccini, and winds up March 10 with "Tosca" by Puccini.
"You can never have too much Puccini or too much Verdi," said Akina. " 'Rigoletto' hadn't been done in a long time. This is about the 10th anniversary of our last doing 'Tosca' and we're looking at 'Il Trittico' as a challenge and our centerpiece."
For baritone John Packard, "Rigoletto" marks several firsts.
"It's the first time I auditioned for it, so the first time I'm doing it," he said. "And this is my first time in Hawai'i."
He couldn't be happier.
"There's no role quite like it," he said of Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester who exists in the shadows of a lecherous duke. In dramatic and tragic twists, Rigoletto's daughter Gilda is kidnapped.
"I love the range of emotions — love, hate, the rage — and I was blessed to work with charitable baritones who had done the part, who helped me understand and get acclimated to the character. I think they wanted to pass on the tradition to me."
Packard, based in Philadelphia, performs in four or five productions a year.
"I usually work January through May, and it's always fun to go to a new city," he said. "I had heard that Hawaii Opera was a great place to work, with very friendly people, and a decent hall. It is, indeed, very relaxed."
In operatic circles, Packard has made a name for himself by creating the role of Joe De Rocher in Jake Heggie's production of "Dead Man Walking," in which he plays the death-row inmate popularized in the movie version that starred Sean Penn. The original production, directed by Joe Mantello with libretto by Terrence McNally, has edge, controversy and a bad-guy lead; it premiered in 2000 in San Francisco.
"I'm doing 'Dead Man Walking' one more time, which Baltimore is billing as my last one," he said of his next role after his Hawai'i debut. "I really love the show; I think it's the best musical theater since 'West Side Story.' "
HOT has been operating on an annual budget of about $3.2 million, said Akina. That includes a fourth show during the summer.
The encouraging news is that growth has been steady. The 2005 season attracted 35,000 patrons in addition to 25,000 students who get a taste of opera through a year-round outreach program. And 5,000 students pay $6 to experience grand opera in HOT's ongoing Opera for Everyone educational program targeting youths.
Akina said he's always watching the moves of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, which provides the music for the operas.
"Their recent (internal) problems have no direct impact on us. In a sense, we 'rent' the orchestra because we pay the symphony, and we're able to turn over half a million dollars a season," Akina said of the six-week contractual relationship HOT has with the orchestra. "That's a period the orchestra doesn't have to worry about payroll. The musicians work very hard, and it's unfortunate we can't provide more."
The HOT partnership represents 20 percent of the orchestra's 30-week schedule.
• • •
It's easy to fit in and soak up opera. Some advice:
• Dress: In Hawai'i, almost anything goes. Going casual? Aloha wear, mu'umu'u, or dress shirts will do. It's also prudent to dress up, with coat and tie, chic gown, even a tux for the formal-inclined. But no shorts, slippers or tank tops.
• Behavior: Be quiet and attentive during the performance. But it's OK to laugh and applaud what you enjoy; shouting "bravo!" for men, "brava!" for women is perfectly acceptable and appreciated from the stage. You don't have to wait for the curtain call to express your hurrahs.
• Munching: Forbidden; however, slipping a cough drop or mint during the course of a performance is permitted. Leave the mochi crunch at home.
• Showspeak: Most folks are not fluent in Italian (the language of this year's shows) or other European tongues over the course of any other season (German, French, Spanish), so English subtitles or, in opera vernacular, "supertitles" are projected above the stage.
• "Rigoletto": Hunchback jester is the fool, when his murder plan backfires and kills his only daughter instead of her lecherous lover.
• "Il Trittico": In "Il Tabarro," soulmates who are dogged by a suspicious husband cloak their smoldering desires aboard a barge moored outside Paris. "Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica)" is about the scandal of an illegitimate birth. "Gianni Schicci" is about a family of misfit gold diggers hungry for the riches of a dead relative.
• "Tosca": Jealous opera singer leaps to her death after being duped by the police chief she just murdered over the execution of her jailbird lover.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.
Correction: John Mount plays Count Monterone in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of "Rigoletto." A previous version of this story had an incorrect photo caption.