Singers Show Stress, But Stage, Costumes Carry Rigoletto

Nearly all the elements for a perfect Rigoletto were in place as the Verdi masterpiece opened in the Dallas Opera’s latest rendition at Winspear Opera House Friday night.

Set designer Michael Yeargan’s production, originally created as a joint venture of the Dallas Opera and Houston Grand Opera nearly two decades ago, and since seen at numerous major opera houses, has been aptly labeled a classic. Friday night, it was as visually captivating as ever: massive, Bauhausian rectangles provide a visual anchor and sense of solidity, while images of a distant storm give the flavor of sweeping romanticism on which this drama of betrayal and revenge can develop. Against this backdrop combining a grand landscape with severe modernism, Yeargan’s production introduces a third element in the form of elaborate, almost obsessively detailed Renaissance costumes by the late Peter J. Hall, resulting in a visual impression that constantly contradicts and thus constantly intrigues—much like Verdi’s music.

In the pit, Pietro Rizzo conducted this familiar score with impeccable timing and sense of color; he brought a unique sense of physical space to Verdi’s music, tugging the listener from one emotion to another, and, tellingly, producing the most arresting moments when the music is at its most bleak. The staging by Harry Silverstein and choreography by Keturah Stickann further underlined the multi-layered elements of the drama. In the opening scene, for instance, the subtle interaction of dancers and singers introduced, with hardly any overt reference, an unmistakable sense of sexual decadence at the ducal court of Mantua in the sixteenth century.

Baritone Paolo Gavanelli was, of course, at the center of this cyclonic action, in the title role. His restless visual interpretation was worth the price of admission. However, the voice was often haphazard in tone quality and volume level. One sensed that one was hearing and seeing a great performance with a voice that was under some stress.

Likewise, tenor James Valenti’s rendition of the Duke was uncertain both musically and dramatically at times, with all the right notes but little nuance. It was easy to hate the character of the Duke, but there should also be some element that makes the viewer-listener understand why both Gilda and Maddalena love him.

Soprano Laura Claycomb was beyond reproach as Gilda. With conductor Rizzo’s sure support, she produced goose bumps and won the loudest cheers of the evening with her rendition of “Caro nome.” Mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chavez brought a beautiful, rich quality to her brief but pivotal rendition of Maddalena, and bass Raymond Aceto dominated the stage whenever he entered as the evil Sparafucile. Bass-baritone Bradley Garvin was similarly powerful as the wronged Monterone.

All photos by Karen Almond for the Dallas Opera

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