Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: 'Rigoletto'

Virginia Opera, Peter Mark conducting
Oct. 24, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage

The Virginia Opera’s production of Verdi’s "Rigoletto," which concluded its run over the weekend, proved to be one of its best in recent years in terms of vocal casting and orchestral performance. Visually, it was drab.

The South African baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa, in the title role, was a commanding presence with a powerful yet nuanced voice; and the Korean soprano Sang-Eun Lee, as Gilda, combined bell-like and focused tone with affecting characterization, especially in Gilda’s great aria, "Caro nome."

Tenor Aurelio Domínguez, a onetime cover singer with this company, brought to the role of the Duke of Mantua a fine if still somewhat young voice, and delivered the goods in "La donna è mobile," this opera’s most familiar number and Verdi’s greatest hit tune. In characterization and stance, Domínguez came across more as a languid preppy than an aristocratic roué, not a critical shortcoming as the duke is a rather passive villain – no need for him to exude menace.

The menace was provided, with bracing chilliness, by bass Nathan Stark as the assassin Sparafucile. Stark and mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock, who produced big tone and acted with delicious raunchiness as Maddalena, cooked up the most volatile emotional chemistry of the show in Act 3. No such vibes, alas, in the interactions of the duke’s courtiers and Mantuan damsels in Act 1.

Bass Evan Brummel was in good voice, but brought too much youthful vigor to the role of Count Monterone, an elderly man cursing the duke for debauching his daughter and the jester Rigoletto for making light of the outrage.

Peter Mark conducted an orchestra drawn from Hampton Roads’ Virginia Symphony in accompaniment that was dramatically charged but never overtaxing to the voices; several of the orchestra’s soloists delivered memorably sensitive support.

With the exceptions of Rigoletto’s gold jester’s garb and assorted bits of lingerie, costumes were predominantly black, garnished with grays and dark earth tones. The set, divided between a revolving tower and tri-level scaffolding, was similarly dark. The lighting shed not enough light on this tunnel.