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Review: Singers power 'Rigoletto'

March 02, 2007

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    March 02, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

Review: Singers power 'Rigoletto'

The title character, railing at men he thinks have abducted his daughter, is so gripped by his fury that he hunches forward as if he'd taken a punch in the stomach. Yet his voice still pours out in a torrent. Terrifying.

A few moments later, confirming his worst fears, his daughter describes how a wooer became an attacker. She begins quietly. The excitement of would-be love wells up in her rich, vibrant tones. Then her story takes its grim turn. When she reaches her last phrase, singing veers into an outcry of primal despair.

Opera Carolina is taking a gamble. Its staging of Giuseppe Verdi's drama -- the story of the mean-spirited court jester for a womanizing duke -- is a throwback to 50 or more years ago, when opera was all about singers.

Arianna Kollner's sets, rented from the Opera Company of Philadelphia, hark back to the stagecraft of the 1950s. They mainly consist of painted drops -- but the painting is plainer than it was back in the day. So the duke's palace creates no illusion of luxury. It's the same story with the stage direction by John Hoomes, artistic director of the Nashville Opera. Hoomes lays out the action intelligibly. But heighten the scenes' impact? No.

So, as in the old days, it's largely up to the principals to generate intensity and emotion.

Gordon Hawkins and Ailyn Perez -- as Rigoletto and his daughter, Gilda -- proved at Thursday's opening that they could operate that way. Besides the voluminous tone and hulking presence he brought Rigoletto's rages, Hawkins sang with a fullness and poise that captured Rigoletto's one positive quality -- the fatherly warmth he displays in his scenes with Gilda.

Perez could've silenced the commentators over the years who have accused Gilda's role of being thin. Yes, she delivered the girlish sweetness that's about all some sopranos offer. But her voice also had richness and passion. Her face showed the excitement of first love and the heartbreak of betrayal. Perez gave Gilda a heroic stature -- as befits a character who gives up her life for another.

James Valenti played that other, the licentious duke. At first, one might've thought Valenti was a gift to the tenor-starved opera world. He not only boasted a ringing, secure voice, but he was tall, slim and -- especially by tenor standards -- good-looking. But he cut a surprisingly un-dashing figure. He didn't deal much in vocal nuances or facial expressions.

Rounding out the quintet of crucial characters, Jamie Offenbach and Angela Horn sang lustily as the brother-and-sister murder duo of Sparafucile and Maddalena. The men of the Opera Carolina Chorus delivered the courtiers' men-behaving-badly numbers with gleeful energy. The Charlotte Symphony, led by James Meena, had a leanness and drive that kept the story's tensions building. And Hawkins and Perez capped it all off.


Opera Carolina presents the drama by Giuseppe Verdi.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday. NOTE: Uptown will be crowded today because of CIAA tournament; allow time for traffic and parking.

WHERE: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $14-$90.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.