Sunday, January 29, 2012
Rigoletto is no slouch! A wonderful evening with Florida Grand Opera
Florida Grand Opera raised the curtain last night on Verdi's masterpiece, Rigoletto. The evening's performance was a highly-anticipated event, and the opera house was packed with people eager to see this wonderful opera. The air crackled with excitement as they filed in with high hopes, and they waited with bated breath for the lights to go down. They were hoping for a very special show, and they were not disappointed.
As the music began, a spotlight came on in the center of the darkened stage, revealing a shirtless hunchback crouched over his jester's hat and scepter. As the light revealed his deformed body, one could easily believe that the singer himself bore a hunch, so flawless were his prosthetics. The rest of the costumes, as it soon became apparent, were no less well-done. The scenery, too, was masterfully constructed, and helped to set the mood perfectly in every scene. And without giving anything away, the audience was presented with a slightly unexpected take on the ending that was hair-raisingly effective.
Musically speaking, the overall performance was very good. There were a few opening night kinks that need to be worked out, such as several brief moments when the orchestra slightly overpowered the singers. These moments, however, were the exceptions in an otherwise brilliantly performed work. And while, at times, the tempo ran a bit faster than I personally prefer, it was more than made up for by the beauty and power of the singing.
The role of the Duke was sung by tenor Michael Fabiano, who makes his Florida Grand Opera debut with this production. He fit the character perfectly with his youth and dashing looks, and his portrayal of the callous young nobleman was a perfect blend of seductive charm and heartless indifference. Vocally, he gave an admirable performance, and while his was not always the largest of instruments, the beauty of his tone and brightness of his delivery made him an absolute pleasure to watch.
Baritone Mark Walters sang the part of the hunchback Rigoletto, a man torn by the double life he must lead in order to protect his daughter from the clutches of his hated employer, the womanizing Duke. He delivers a poignant, heart-rending performance that grips the viewer from almost the first note. Never before have I seen a Rigoletto who so effectively demonstrates the depths to which he is forced to stoop in the service of the Duke. His voice is warm, rich, and powerful, easily filling the farthest corners of the hall with his full, intense tones. Tender and loving one moment, bursting with rage the next, Mr. Walters created a powerful image of a man who will go to any lengths for his daughter.
And then there was Nadine Sierra, the soprano who sings the role of Rigoletto's innocent daughter Gilda. The South Florida native was the real star of the show, with a light, beautiful, yet strong voice that soared gracefully above the orchestra. Her delivery was nearly flawless and seemingly effortless. Her Caro Nome was charmingly playful and sweetly endearing, and her delicately gorgeous tones were an absolute joy to experience. Her final moments were filled with such tragic beauty that many in the audience were rendered speechless for quite some time after the final curtain.
Unfortunately, not all of the audience was rendered speechless during the actual performance. As wonderful as the performance was, I would be remiss in my report of the evening if I failed to mention that last night's audience contained some of the least considerate opera-goers I have ever seen. Aside from multiple conversations taking place in normal speaking voices during the music, no fewer than three cell phones rang in my general vicinity. Two of those phones rang during Caro Nome. One of those calls was actually answered, and the offender proceeded to carry on a phone conversation that lasted a good thirty seconds! During Caro Nome!!! I mean, this guy made the Marimba incident at the New York Philharmonic look like child's play!
But even that could not destroy the magic of the evening. Florida Grand Opera's Rigoletto is at once beautiful, powerful, and heartbreaking. The spell is cast the moment the music begins, and is not broken until after the final crashing notes. South Florida opera lovers, do not miss this one!