Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rigoletto: Houston Grand Opera

rigoletto, houston
Scott Hendricks as Rigoletto. Photo: Felix Sanchez.

Revenge rarely pans out. Just ask Rigoletto. If ever there was a Shakespearian tragedy that's not exactly Shakespearian, it has to be Verdi's 1841 mega hit, Rigoletto. The opera endures because it’s a killer story about a father's obsessive love for his daughter, the daughter's wayward love for a cad, and one persistent curse that the most tragic hunchback in all of opera can't seem to shake. In between, there is some of the most melodic music Verdi ever composed. Based on Victor Hugo's play, Le Roi s'amuse and Italianized to appease the Austrian censors, Rigoletto contains all the necessary ingredients for great opera—broken but full-blooded characters who do all the wrong things for the reasons they believe to be right.

Houston Grand Opera's production is spare in all the right places and opulent when it needs to be. Michael Yeargan sets his Rigoletto in an M.C. Escher-like box that depicts an encroaching storm that expands and contracts. Within the first few moments the atmosphere of menace is clear and we know that things are not going to turn out well for this gang. And what a gang HGO has gathered to pull all this off. Making a stunning role debut, HGO studio alumnus Scott Hendricks imbues his Rigoletto with a generous dose of pathos and an earthy sound. His performance builds in momentum as the piece progresses. Russian soprano and HGO studio alumna Albina Shagimuratova moves into a new level of maturity in her portrayal of Gilda, Rigoletto's smitten daughter. Her bright and vibrant sound just brims with innocence and she's gaining in naturalness on stage. Tenor Eric Cutler swaggers about with suitable moxie as the lusty and lecherous Duke of Mantua. His charisma and velvety tone came through during the famous Act Three aria, “La Donna e mobile.” Andrea Silvestrelli convinces as the evil Sparafucile, and current Studio member Maria Markina is well matched for the role of vixen Maddalena.

Paul Pyant's lighting design amplified the oncoming doom with clever use of ominous shadows in key scenes. Peter J. Hall's richly textured and jewel-toned costumes balanced the otherwise spare set effectively. The HGO chorus under the direction of Richard Bado was most compelling during the haunting storm scene. Lindy Hume directed with a swift hand, keeping the action rolling, the tension mounting, and the emotions exploding. Patrick Summers conducted a crisp performance by the HGO Orchestra.

The final storm finally comes in, taking with it Gilda's life and Rigoletto's soul. So it goes in the land of the cursed.

Reprinted from Culturevulture.