Strong vocals impassion 'Rigoletto'
By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to The Advertiser
By Ruth O. Bingham
Bachi. Karma. What goes around, comes around. If Rigoletto had lived in Hawai'i, he would have known that and spared himself a lot of grief.
Verdi's wildly popular "Rigoletto" of 1850, which opened Hawaii Opera Theatre's 2006 season Friday night, explored circles of cruelty and depravity within court hierarchies at a time when monarchies were falling all over Europe.
"Rigoletto" might have fallen along with monarchies, except that those hierarchies continue to permeate our lives, and the opera remains as popular as ever.
Cruelties beget cruelties and revenge rebounds upon revenge, while the innocent pay and the rich escape scot-free.
HOT's production, well attended and warmly received, built its success on the lead singers, who were beautifully cast, their vocal timbres well matched to their roles.
As the aristocratic, unabashedly licentious, and completely egocentric Duke of Mantua, Jorge Lopez-Yanez was flawless. He not only looked and acted the part, his virile, ringing tenor commanded every scene and made the ladies swoon. Lopez-Yanez's Duke was the picture-perfect catch, except for that minor detail of being morally corrupt. ...
Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter who is seduced and ruined by the Duke, was sung by Nancy Allen Lundy, the lightness and clarity of her soprano exuding youth and innocence. Underlying that lightness lay an impressive strength and control that made Gilda's self-sacrifice believable and the famous display aria, "Caro nome" (Beloved name), more charming and playful than the technical feat it is. Lundy's powerful delicacy, tight vibrato, and high pianissimo entrances kept the audience rapt throughout her Act II narration.
Rigoletto was played by baritone John Packard, best known for his lead role in "Dead Man Walking," the 2002 opera by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally, based on the renowned 1995 movie, based on the 1994 book by Sister Helen Prejean.
Packard intensified Rigoletto's deformity, making the character almost grotesque. Packard also revealed a strong talent for acting: his frantic search for Gilda after her abduction conveyed an almost tangible panicked terror.
Packard's voice — darker, more constrained and, especially in upper ranges, more "covered" — mirrored his soul and provided a lovely contrast to Lundy's clarity and Lopez-Yanez's magnanimity. Packard's voice is uneven between his ranges and sometimes difficult to hear over the orchestra and in ensembles, but it can be powerful and expressive, especially in character roles.
Contralto Jessie Raven portrayed a marvelously sensual Maddelena; bass-baritone Jamie Offenbach, a regular guest at HOT, was both chilling and alluring as the assassin Sparafucile; and bass-baritone John Mount of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa delivered the all-important thunderous curse that ruins Rigoletto's life.
Mount's curse was apparently inordinately potent Friday night. Inconsequential but surely infuriating opening-night glitches kept popping up, including one delightfully perfect random error: Just as Rigoletto cried out, "Ah! The curse!" the supertitles were suddenly replaced with a huge projected image of a computer screen splayed across proscenium and ceiling.
HOT's production used a modular set designed for the Atlanta Opera, which functioned cleverly, smoothly, but only truly came to life in Act III. Lighting by Peter Dean Beck added depth.
Director William Florescu recreated a glorious number opera, with its strengths in solos, duets and small ensembles; throughout, those remained the most memorable.
Interconnections between numbers and staging details, however, seemed to be of less interest, or at least less fully imagined.
Particularly uninspired was Florescu's use of the chorus, which did little more than stand around. In Rigoletto's pivotal scene in Act II, for example, during which his pretense of nonchalance crumbles into abject pleading to get his daughter back, the chorus mostly just stood, finally becoming statues, leaving Packard to create that transformation almost entirely alone.
Nonetheless, the chorus, prepared by Beebe Freitas and Nola Nahulu, sang well, and the music, conducted by Mark Flint, was wonderful. Flint excelled in managing the ebb and flow of tempos, allowing voices to soar while keeping rein on the whole.