- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

The Washington Opera’s visually arresting production of Giuseppe Verdi’s popular tragic opera “Rigoletto” opened Saturday at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.

Blessed by first-rate though occasionally quirky singing and evocative period sets imported from the Seattle Opera, this “Rigoletto” will warm the hearts of opera traditionalists who long for a bit of pageantry in this era of fashionable Euro-gray productions.

Verdi’s court jester Rigoletto is a nasty fellow in service to the licentious young Duke of Mantua, whose primary contact sport is the conquest and abandonment of charming young ladies, married or not.

Rigoletto joins in the fun by making the cuckolds in the Duke’s court the object of his scorn, earning a curse from one of them — a curse that ultimately dooms Rigoletto’s innocent young daughter, Gilda, secretly in love with the Duke.

When the enraged jester learns what’s going on, he arranges for a local hit man, Sparafucile, to send the Duke to sleep with the fishes. Since this is opera, however, things turn out rather differently.

Baritone Carlos Alvarez delivered a vigorous, splendidly complex Rigoletto on opening night, believably charting his character’s downward emotional trajectory. His convincing yet conflicted interpretation of Rigoletto’s famous aria, “Cortigiani vil razza dannata” (“Miserable courtiers, race of cowards”), in which he denounces the Duke’s hangers-on for kidnapping his only daughter, was extraordinarily moving.

As Rigoletto’s employer and ultimate enemy, the Duke of Mantua, tenor Joseph Calleja boasted a powerful voice that at times exhibited a touch too much vibrato for our taste.

Nonetheless, he handled his first-act aria “Questa o quella” (“Among the beautiful ladies”) with just the right touch of arrogance, exhibiting more of the same in the well-known “La donna e mobile” (“Women are fickle”), his ironic refrain in Act III.

Soprano Lyubov Petrova’s light, delicate coloratura voice was a perfect choice for the role of the teenage Gilda, Rigoletto’s charming daughter whose naivete and selflessness prove to be her undoing.

Her marvelously nuanced first act aria, “Caro nome che il mio cor” (“Dear name, engraved on my heart”), was girlishly effective, and her ensemble work with Mr. Alvarez was superb.

This production of “Rigoletto” is rounded out by its fine supporting cast. Bass Andrea Silvestrelli was a shockingly aggressive Sparafucile. Portraying Rigoletto’s hit man as an oversized and sinister thug, Mr. Silvestrelli nonetheless gave his character a surprising level of professionalism, and was able to pull his huge voice back just enough to blend in perfectly in the ensembles.

Bass-baritone Robert Cantrell imbued his small role as the wronged Count Monterone with noble righteousness. Additional smaller roles were nicely sung as well.

Alas, on opening night at least, this production lost points in the orchestra pit, where conductor Giovanni Reggioli was determined to race the chorus — and occasionally his soloists — to the finish line, perhaps inspired by the National Marathon run earlier in the day. The orchestra won the first act by a length. But what was the point? Hopefully, this issue will be straightened out in later performances.

**1/2 WHO: The Washington Opera

WHAT: Verdi’s “Rigoletto”

WHERE: The Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: March 31, April 12 at 7 p.m.; April 1, 7, 8, 9 at 7:30 p.m.; April 6 and 13 at 2 p.m.

WHEN: $45-$225

INFORMATION: 202/295-2400 or visit https://www.dc-opera.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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