Few operas can boast the rich array of great tunes that pack the score of “Rigoletto,” making it a perennial favorite onstage. In Seattle Opera’s current production, you can feel the frisson that goes through the audience when the orchestra starts the introduction to one of the most famous arias in all opera, “La donna è mobile.”
A great score still requires great singing and acting and playing, however, and this “Rigoletto” has all three. A remount of director Linda Brovsky’s popular 2004 Mussolini-era production, this show yanks the opera out of Renaissance Italy and into the dissolute 1930s with the help of lots of Fascist imagery and straight-armed salutes. Robert Dahlstrom’s sets, realistic but imaginative, work well with this concept.
Brovsky transformed the original party scene at the Duke’s into a Breughel-like canvas full of colorful interactions and episodes: a little seduction, a little fracas, and a dance here and there, before the outraged Monterone (the excellent Donovan Singletary) breaks in to change the atmosphere with his curse.
The buoyant conducting of Riccardo Frizza galvanized the orchestra and singers into some compelling ensemble work. Frizza proved an adroit and flexible accompanist, supporting the singers without drowning them out, and giving them attentive backing in their arias. Aside from some questionable brass intonation, the orchestra sounded energized by Frizza’s rousing and responsive conducting. The winds, including oboe, flute and piccolo, turned in fine performances.
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In the title role on Saturday, Marco Vratogna gave a performance that rose steadily in both accuracy and strength. By Act III he was top-notch, with a real Verdi baritone voice, powerful singing and persuasive acting. Nadine Sierra proved an appealing, vulnerable Gilda with the ability to float a lovely coloratura line (even while lying on the stage).
The Duke, Francesco Demuro, turned in a beautifully finished performance; his voice has risen steadily in power and finesse since his Seattle debut in a 2009 “La Traviata.” Hearing Demuro with Sierra in their Act I love scene was a joy: two beautiful voices, pliant and caressing in tone. Its almost enough to make you forget that the Duke is lying to innocent Gilda and bribing her servant.
The deep and rumbling bass of Andrea Silvestrelli, who sang Fafner in last summer’s “Ring,” was ideal for the villainous Sparafucile. Sarah Larsen, a former Seattle Opera Young Artist, made a terrific Maddalena, rich-voiced and opulently sultry as she succumbed to the Duke.
On Sunday, three alternate principals were originally scheduled to appear, but tenor Demuro is now singing all the performances as the Duke following the withdrawal of the other tenor. Demuro showed no signs of fatigue in a compelling Sunday performance opposite the Gilda of Jennifer Zetlan, whose agile coloratura and impassioned acting made a fine impression. In his role debut as Rigoletto, Korean baritone Hyung Yun proved a skilled actor with a rich voice that’s the right color and timbre for the role (though at times on Sunday he appeared to be coasting a bit, perhaps in anticipation of the role’s length).
The supporting cast, including such singers as Doug Jones, Carissa Castaldo, Glenn Guhr, Barry Johnson, Emily Clubb and Michael Dunlap, was uniformly excellent, joining John Keene’s well-schooled chorus for some terrific theater. As Rigoletto begs the dissipated courtiers for mercy, they turn their backs on him one by one some cruelly, some reluctantly. Brava to Brovsky for her directorial finesse.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.