Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Poetic Lyrics by Francesco Maria Piave
Based on Victor Hugo’s play
Le Roi s’amuse
Conducted by Victor DeRenzi
Directed by Stephanie Sundine
William E. Schmidt Opera Theatre
Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
(941) 366-8450
Oct. 26, 28, Nov. 1, 3, 7, 12

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

From the moment Conductor Victor DeRenzi steps onto the podium, we know Verdi’s work is going to be treated with respect and love.  No fooling around with musical riffs or scenery flying.  We get a straightforward musical and stage production. It’s as fresh as in its 2008 debut, a popular entry in DeRenzi’s decades of presenting the entire Verdi canon. As the story of a court jester, the hunchback of the title, who falls victim-- via his daughter’s demise-- to the curse of a count, it is dark as her doom.

Scenic  designer  David P. Gordon and especially Ken Yunker with his lighting  set this production to convey moods either chilling  or foreboding.  The initial treatment of Rigoletto partakes of both.  Despite his dismissive attitude toward Count Monterone (Matthew Hanscom, both dignified and distraught) for protesting against the Duke of Mantua’s despoiling his daughter,  baritone Marco Nistico’s driven Rigoletto wins sympathy with his wit and vocal command as well as pitiable deformity.

Is there a more despicable roué in opera than the Duke of Mantua? Yet Hak Soo Kim displays a charm that makes his conquests believable.  He’s a true tenor who’s full voiced from the moment he plunges into his cocky boasts at court through his final conquests and being conquered. He gets away with a “La donna e mobile” that pushes aside associations with TV commercials. He yet seems at home in the up-to-date version of his wooing of Maddalena (sexy Heather Johnson) that has him feeling her up on a tavern table. It’s easy to imagine how Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda feel as they note the scene from outside. It also motivates Maddalena’s father Sparafucile (effective Young Bok Kim) to be a turn-around assassin. The despoiled but still-in-love Gilda was originally to be played by a star of last year’s Sarasota Opera main season. She was probably immediately lured to another company. That loss turned out to be a gain, for Eleni  Calenos’ Gilda fits the role beautifully as soprano (her “Caro none” excels)  and actress. Only a man as miserably polygamous and self-centered as the Duke of Mantua could not be satisfied with Rigoletto’s lovely daughter here.   

Adequate choral support is provided by a number of male studio artists. If there is any criticism to be made of staging, it is that the men seem bunched up to one side of the stage even when no wall constricts their space.  Choreographer Diane Parington accomplishes well the movement at court.  Praise for the Orchestra under Conductor DeRenzi and for his excellent  surtitle translation!  Altogether, the production appears to presage an interesting traditional season, beginning  next February. 

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