Rigoletto at Opera Carolina - REVIEW
February 12, 2018
February 12, 2018
Rigoletto at Opera Carolina - REVIEW
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Premiered at Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy, March 11, 1851
Sung in Italian, presented by Opera Carolina with English supertitles
This review is of the opening performance on 2/11/2018. Two additional performances will happen on 2/15 at 7:30 PM, and 2/17 at 8 PM, at the Blumenthal Peformance Arts Center (Belk Theater) in uptown Charlotte, NC.
See Opera Lively's coverage with three informative interviews with the artists, by clicking [here]. These are not to be missed, since they are very interesting. A fourth one is coming soon.
Also, our announcement article (the link is [here]) contains more information about the show.
Tickets for the two remaining shows can be purchased by clicking [here]. They go from $21 to $154.
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra conducted by Opera Lively interviewee James Meena (the other two performances will be conducted by Sara Jobim)
The Opera Carolina Chorus
Stage Director Jordan Lee Brown
Set Designer John Conklin
(This production was originally a co-production by Boston Lyric Opera, Atlanta Opera, and Opera Omaha. Original direction by Tomer Zvulun)
Lighting Designer Michael Baumgarten
Wig and Make-up Designer Martha Ruskai
Costume Designer Victoria Tzykun
Director of Music Preparation Emily Jarrell Urbanek
Title role, Rigoletto, the court jester - Opera Lively interviewee baritone Anooshah Golesorkhi
The Duke of Mantua - Opera Lively interviewee tenor Rafaelle Abete
Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter - Opera Lively interviewee soprano Magali Simard-Galdés
Important additional roles
Sparafucile, an assassin - bass Matthew Curran
Maddalena, Sparafucile's sister - future Opera Lively interviewee mezzo-soprano Leyla Martinucci (role written for contralto) - stay tuned for her interview, coming soon
Count Monterone - bass-baritone Ashraf Swailam (role written for baritone)
Count Ceprano - baritone Eric Loftin (role written for bass)
Marullo, a courtier - bass-baritone Carl DuPont (role written for baritone)
Smaller comprimario roles
Countess Ceprano - Xela Pinkerton
Borsa, a courtier - Johnathan White
Giovanna, Gilda's maid - Megan Miller
Countess of Mantua - Sarah Parker
I'm in awe. I drove back home for two hours and fifteen minutes, talking effusively with my wife about this show. We were both blown away by the quality of the singing and the beauty of the physical production. We traveled to Charlotte with good expectations, of course, given that the opera was being done by the excellent Opera Carolina with James Meena conducting (always a guarantee of quality), but in part, we did harbor the jaded feeling that as good as the company is, we were going to see yet another Rigoletto. Well, no. What we saw was a highly enjoyable Rigoletto, that left us with big semi-permanent smiles on our faces.
One favorite topic of our dialogue was how lucky we were to have attended in person the Met's recent Tosca, which set new standards for how to do a spectacular but traditional production; that is, with no heavy Regie concepts, but just as fresh and enjoyable as the most avant-garde shows.
Well, we just saw another one just as good. This show by Opera Carolina achieved the same feeling of how to enjoy a traditional production without any boredom. If this exact same show had been given at the Metropolitan Opera, it wouldn't have been out of place. I don't think that what we just saw is any less good than most of the best Met performances.
Now, what I experience, rather than a jaded feeling, is pride. You know, we are in North Carolina, not exactly the most prestigious place in the planet for the high arts, in the eyes of the people who don't live here. But we are proud of the fact that people from other states or other countries would be utterly surprised if they had attended this show. It was almost perfect. It doesn't get much better than that.
I have had three relatively recent experiences with Rigoletto; two live, and one on DVD. The live ones were at the Met (the Las Vegas production, with the excellent Vittorio Grigòlo, the lovely Opera Lively interviewee Lisette Oropesa, and the world-class Opera Lively interviewee Željko Lučić), and at Piedmont Opera (which I said at the time, should be in the Hall of Fame of the top five best performances in North Carolina in recent years, featuring world-famous tenor René Barbera as the Duke). The third one was by one of the most imaginative opera companies in the world, Opernhaus Zürich, with, as Gilda, the fabulous Aleksandra Kurzak and the great Saimir Pirgu as the Duke - another two of our interviewees - same as René Barbera whom we've interviewed twice).
I'll tell you what: I liked this Rigoletto by Opera Carolina above all three above-mentioned. My wife saw the two live ones with me and agrees (she hasn't seen the Zurich DVD).
Why am I insisting on the interview angle? Because I suspect that I can't avoid a little bias in favor of the artists I interview. Once I talk with these people at length and most of the time like them a lot both as artists and as persons, I get a bit protective - and I did interview the three principal singers in this production, and I'm about to talk with a fourth one (Leyla). But these other shows I'm calling less good than this one in Charlotte, also featured several of our interviewees. So, it's not bias.
And again, like I said in other reviews, am I biased in favor of the North Carolina companies? I sure like to promote opera in our state, and we have media partnerships with all five professional opera companies here, so I won't deny that I'm predisposed to be favorable to them. But two of these companies, Opera Carolina and Piedmont Opera - are indeed a notch above the others. And while I love Piedmont Opera and I'm always amazed at how good they manage to be with a very small budget, Opera Carolina is indeed the premier company in our state, and the only one here that can legitimately have aspirations at national rather than simply regional status.
Opera Carolina is the company that has started co-productions, for example, with New York City Opera, and with companies in Italy. Not many regional companies can say so.
Enough said to demonstrate that what I'm saying is not a product of bias. Let's talk about this great performance.
First of all, the physical production was simply gorgeous-looking. Unfortunately we don't have production pictures yet, except for three of them, taken elsewhere, before this production came here (Maestro Meena is also at the head of Toledo Opera, so frequently the same production with the same cast is done there too; and this time it was first there, second here). We have asked the company for production pictures and should come back to this thread and edit them in once they are available. But even with the official pictures, often they are taken in close-up, and do not do justice to the beauty of the sets.
Without pictures, let me try to describe the sets. The sides and the background were pitch black, conveying the aspect of darkness that is part of Rigoletto. Movable walls of different sizes had a collage of period paintings and sculptures on them, which provided very striking visuals. They combined in several different configurations, for the various scenes, and were highly effective. The top of the set had a maquette of typical Italianate buildings. Color lighting and thunder/lighting effects were rendered also around this maquette, so that we seemed to see the exterior of the ducal palace in miniature, and the interior of the palace in the bottom part of the stage, in natural size. Very ingenious, and very pretty. Red panels come down to create a proscenium for the most intimate scenes.
Again, I found these sets to be superior to most of the various ones I've seen for Rigoletto over the years, therefore the score must be the maximum A++.
Costumes were nice. The chorus was dressed in black with Venetian masks at times, while the singers had period costumes that while not stunning, were pretty good. A+
Blocking was extremely clever. The movements of the members of the chorus were one of the best aspects of this show. They got together in clusters, sneaked in and out in lines, appeared at the top of the sets looking down, and so forth. The movements were always creative and helped setting the mood. A++.
Stage direction, flawless, with several nice touches, including the brutal murder of Gilda by strangulation (the company used a body double), and the fact that when she things after she is dead, it's her ghost that appears, singing, which her cadaver remains limp on the floor (Rigoletto is particularly outrageous in terms of the libretto, for making Gilda sing for several minutes, after being, well, dead).
Acting was exquisite, especially by our Rigoletto and our Gilda; both very strong in conveying their conflicting emotions. A+.
The orchestra and Maestro Meena were impeccable. Again, I like him very much as a person, but I swear that I'm being objective when I call him one of the best opera conductors in the nation. With James Meena holding the baton, there is never a volume problem. The orchestra supports the singers perfectly, soft and delicate when they need to be given dynamic space, and then bursts into lively and energetic playing when that's what is needed. No hiccups whatsoever. And when we remember that Maestro Meena never reads a score, but rather knows by memory the operas he conducts, his accuracy is uncanny. Both the orchestra and James Meena deserve, as usual, A++.
Maestro Meena mentioned that this production showed the opera truly complete, including lines in the second act that most performances cut.
Now, the singing. Oh boy! Where do I start? First of all, Annoshah Golesorkhi and Raffaele Abete were respectively the best baritone and the best tenor I've ever heard on the Opera Carolina stage, since the first show I attended in Charlotte about 15 years ago.
Making this kind of comparison is not nice, but what the heck. I'll say this, regarding recent Rigolettos I saw live: Anooshah Golesorkhi did better than Željko Lučić, and Raffaele Abete did better than Vittorio Grigòlo. These two (Anooshah and Raffaele) should be singing at the Met. Both possess very powerful instruments with great projection, being heard loud and clear across the fairly big Belk Theater. Both have expert Italianate phrasing and dynamics. Both have beautiful timber of voice. Both deliver their lines with excellent diction and clarity. They both keep the pitch very accurate and stable, and Abete executes the passagio perfectly. The singing of our Rigoletto and our Duke was a thing of beauty. The public applauded them very frequently, more than just for the blockbuster arias, because they sang everything so well, that each smaller aria or duet sounded like the highlight of the show. What a formidable job by these two incredibly good singers! A++ for both, easily. It is interesting to observe that I saw a DVD with Raffaele recorded in the beginning of his career, and I didn't like that performance. Well, he learned. He is now as good as any other tenor in activity, in this repertory.
Of the three principal singers, our Gilda was the one who did a bit less well. I thought she was better in Cyrano. I don't blame her for this; she is a very young singer, and this is only her second professional leading role. Besides, like she explained in the Q&A postlude, she only started studying this complex role, two months ago. I'm sure she will get more comfortable in the skin (and throat) of this difficult character, with a bit more experience. Still, don't read me wrong: she did very well. Her "Caro Nome" was beautiful, and so was her death scene. And also, Magali has the physique-du-rôle: she is a very pretty and attractive young lady, and a good actress. Her singing gets from Opera Lively a score of A.
Our Maddalena was a very pleasant surprise. Like I said to her after the show - and she seemed very happy to hear it - in the quartet "Bella figlia dell'amore," if its very common to see the voice of the mezzo-soprano getting lost and smothered by the other three singers. Not the case here! We could hear Leyla very well in the quartet, and she was great. And again, just like with Magali, the theatrical credibility of her sensual character was well-rendered in the fact that Leyla is also a very beautiful lady. A+ for her.
To complete the list of great singers, again Ashraf Sewailam delivered the goods. It is the second time I see him on stage, and in both he was great, also deserving an A+.
Matthew Curran was correct but less successful as Sparafucile, in the fact that he sang well his lines, but didn't convey that well the terrifying, sinister aspect of this character. B+.
The other small roles were manned without a lot of pizzaz but without errors, either.
The chorus on the other hand sang very well, and they became an enjoyable part of the show. A+.
In summary, this show is simply spectacular and can't be missed (like I said there are still two performances left).
Overall, we won't grant to Rigoletto by Opera Carolina a perfect score, given a few, rare, and not very important deficiencies. Still, due to their presence, we downgraded the sore. I'd normally grant A+, but the company this time got very close to a full-blown perfect score.
In the absence of production pictures, we have a few photos taken by Opera Lively (and three taken by photographer Joel Bissell.
See the next posts for the pictures.
Don't miss this show, dear readers. That's the kind that justifies coming from afar to see it; the locals are into even more of an obligation (so to speak) to purchase their tickets and support Opera Carolina.
Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); Today at 07:54 AM.