Jester Gives a Jolt
Colony Theatre, Miami Beach
06/23/2011 - & June 25*, 26*, 2011
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Nelson Martinez (Rigoletto), Gina Galati (Gilda 06/23 & 26)/Susana Diaz (Gilda 06/25), Aurelio Dominguez (Duke 06/23)/Eduardo Calcaño (Duke 06/25)/Luis Riopiedre (Duke 06/26), Diego Baner (Sparafucile), Armando Naranjo (Monterone 06/23 & 25)/Ismael González (Monterone 06/26), Matthew Caines (Marullo), Ismael González (Count Ceprano 06/23 & 25)/Armando Narando (Count Ceprano 06/26), Jessy Vargas (Borsa), Lissette Jimenez (Maddalena), Countess Ceprano (Daisy Su), Giovanna (Ketty Delgado), Page (Erica Williams), Usher (Eric Dopkin)
Miami Lyric Opera orchestra and chorus, Pablo Hernandez (chorus master), Doris Lang Kosloff (conductor)
Raffaele Cardone (director), Carlos Arditti (scenic design), Stivanello (costume design), Travis Neff (lighting design)
N. Martinez & G. Galati (© Ken English/MLO)
Miami Lyric Opera gave its first production of Rigoletto in 2007. Since then it has not been revived quite possibly because suitable singers were not available. This season’s performances used several singers from the premiere and the company gave three tenors the opportunity to make their company debuts.
The 2007 production was particularly memorable. A couple of minor vocal problems and some shabby blocking in places, but to experience this great work done in a space as small as the Colony Theatre made it unusually powerful. There are reasons this opera is so popular: it has all the blood and guts of Italian opera and some of the most famous and beautiful music ever composed. And what a story! After Macbeth this libretto was Verdi’s first really good one. He must have been thrilled to finally get a chance to work with something that could pass for solid drama. Opera history tells us represents a real change in the direction of the art form. The characters are more human and the story is really no-holds-barred brutal. First time operagoers are always in for a shock. But when we get a work as familiar as Rigoletto the pieces must be especially good since there is so much opportunity to compare.
Production values at Miami Lyric Opera are generally undistinguished, so a performance’s success is determined by its musical and dramatic qualities. How rewarding this is in the era of bigger is better. If anything, the leads from the earlier production have only improved. Nelson Martinez is a Rigoletto who should be seen in major houses. The same could be said of Susana Diaz, the second cast’s Gilda, in a role which so perfectly fits her. Diego Baner is both the musical and dramatic model for Sparafucile. Lissette Jimenez shows tremendous growth in stage presence with her Maddalena which has particularly secure low notes.
Newcomers didn’t fare as well except for Armando Naranjo’s strong and empathetic Monterone. Still, he would have been more effective had he looked like the “vecchio” that Rigoletto mentions so often. Gina Galati has the necessary power so that she does not simply appear to be lip synching in the ensembles. Her color, however, is bland and her stage deportment is often clumsy; she appears under rehearsed. Still she had several effective moments and her love for the Duke is genuinely moving.
But as is often the case, the Duke is the problem for this production. On his entrance, the handsome Aurelio Dominguez is physically the Duke we hope for. But Dominguez was obviously suffering from an illness, rendering his performance much less than half baked; he never came alive. Eduardo Calcaño’s tenor is long past its prime. Yet, like a real artist, he ignores his limits and gives a dimension that is not usually expressed. His Duke is certainly not a man to be despised; just a libertine unaware that his casual attitude towards sex can be destructive. One never feels he is cruel, which makes the opera sadder since there is no real villain. Luis Riopiedre in the third performance is not yet ripe enough for a role this demanding; it will be interesting to see how he handles the Duke next time out because he has a commanding stage presence and the voice is basically quite beautiful
The orchestra under the direction of Doris Lang Kosloff was particularly precise and took full advantage of the subtleties in Verdi’s brilliant orchestration. After a few flubs on opening night, the chorus directed by Pablo Hernandez proved stronger than ever before.
Miami Lyric Opera continues its noble mission of offering opportunities to rising artists. Miami’s big company, Florida Grand Opera, is offering Rigoletto next season in what will be a more lavish production. Let’s hope it has at least half the passion.