Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Refreshing Rigoletto in Clinton


Alok Kumar, Amanda Hall, and Galen Scott Bower
Clinton, August 6—It was soooo refreshing, after an over-hyped Met production based in Vegas, to hear Rigoletto set in Mantua. Verdi’s opera was given a compelling performance by the Opera Theater of Connecticut, now in its 28th season, in the intimate setting of the Andrews Memorial Theater.

Production Director Alan Mann often subtly shifted our expectation to alter the web of connections. For example, when the Duke declared to Gilda that “Love is the sunshine and spark of creation,” in the second act he did so by singing these words from Gilda’s diary, making the tune an articulation of her thoughts instead of his. This was a performance that systematically gathered intensities to culminate in an effective quartet and a thrilling trio that launched us toward the riveting ending.

This opera has several significant secondary and small roles, but seldom are any as memorable as the performances given by Nicholas Masters as Sparafucile and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein as Maddalena.

Masters channeled grim-reaper energy when he entered in the second scene of Act I and was able to bring out the complex shades of this professional killer in the third act. Sparafucile will kill anyone for the right price, but don’t call him a thief. Masters was aggressive enough to be believable but also thoughtful enough to be particular about his character’s role in life.

Feinstein entered with a fresh voice in the third act and immediately drew attention. She sings with charisma and her deep, rich voice never got lost in ensembles.

The chorus was also excellent and contributed clean diction that made their Italian understandable without supertitles. They also produced a wonderfully spooky sound during their off-stage singing in the final act.

Among the principals, baritone Galen Scott Bower was impressive as Rigoletto. He shaped the brooding, bitter, icy qualities of this role, but his love for his daughter Gilda was believable.

Tenor Alok Kumar slightly ornamented his line “di che il fato ne infiora la vita (they make my life so exciting)” from “questo o quella” and this kind of enthusiastic detail gave the character an air of confidence that made his seductive art believable. Several times during the evening his powerful and effortless high register blew us away.

Soprano Amanda Hall sang Gilda with beautiful colors and many enchanting technical ideas. Her “Caro nome” was elegant and filled with graceful connected lines. But there was much more room for the character arc of Gilda to develop, from restless naivety to nobly conceived suicide, than happened in this particular performance.

The orchestra was too loud during much of the first scene and sometimes covered the singers. This allowed us to discover the voices later than would typically be the case in this opera, but many of the subtleties of that wonderful scene were lost. After this first scene, everything worked.

This production was an opportunity, increasingly rare, to hear this opera in our own backyard. It was a chance to discover how impressive this opera is in a cozy hall among friends.

Performances of this production will continue on Thursday, August 8, and Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, August 11 at 6 pm at the Andrews Memorial Theater, 54 East Main Street, Clinton.

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