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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 17 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 03
Rigoletto wins again!
Arts & Entertainment
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Rigoletto wins again!

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

RIGOLETTO
SEATTLE OPERA
MCCAW HALL
Through February 25


Sold-out audiences on opening night and at the Sunday matinee that followed gave Seattle Opera's latest iteration of Verdi's Rigoletto rousing ovations, and for some very good reasons.

Most outstanding was the opening night Gilda of Nadine Sierra, making her Seattle debut. From Palm Beach, FL, Ms. Sierra brought back memories of Roberta Peters in this role, only with more warmth in the voice. She acted well and made every note seem effortless and beautiful. They don't get much better than this!

On Sunday, the Gilda was Jennifer Zetlan, whom I had panned for her roles as Woglinde and the Forest Bird in last summer's Ring. Much to my surprise, her voice this time had the purity of tone that it lacked in August, and she sang and acted a superb Gilda.

If a role ever fit a singer more perfectly than Sparafucile fits basso Andrea Silvestrelli, I don't know what it would be. His cavernous bass was perfection, including the low note with which he makes his exit after his first scene with Rigoletto. His large physique coupled with effortless acting completed the villainous picture.

Saturday's Rigoletto, baritone Marco Vratogna, however, got off to a rough start, singing Act One with the most painful pitch problems I have ever encountered at Seattle Opera. Fortunately, he became more accurate and effective in later acts. Hyung Yun, in his Seattle debut Sunday, had no such problems and was an effective Rigoletto.

Both of these singers were capable of big sounds, but neither of them employed soft singing to give contrast and a sense of great artistry to their portrayal. (Alas, one is spoiled by memories of the likes of Gordon Hawkins at Seattle Opera and Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill at the old Met. Sometimes I envy those who are relatively new to opera!)

Tenor Francesco Demuro, who is now singing the Duke in both casts (after the withdrawal of Rolando Sanz), seemed a little nervous on opening night and sang with less nuance and beauty of tone than his lovely performance Sunday afternoon.

He looked, acted, and sang a fine Duke, with powerful, ringing high notes, including a spectacular high b-natural at the end of his most famous aria. His is a perfectly disciplined vocal technique, without which no tenor could so easily sing this big role twice within 18 hours. His musicianship, excellent legato, and sense of character made his Duke a thrill.

Verdi's brilliant writing for the chorus has never sounded better than we heard from the Seattle Opera Chorus. Conductor Riccardo Frizza led a lively, coherent performance, even if sometimes allowing both the chorus and orchestra to drown out the tenor line in the ensembles. All the smaller roles were very well managed, although I prefer a mezzo with a richer low voice than that of Sarah Larsen, who sang a sexy and otherwise fine Maddalena.

Sets from the last time this opera was presented here remain perfectly serviceable and attractive. The costumes were likewise serviceable, although the updating to the 1930s added nothing of special interest or effect. (Nor did I see any benefit from putting a yarmulke on Monterone's head, thus making him a Jew.)

But, as General Director Speight Jenkins has said, this opera succeeds even when the singers and production are not good. Verdi's genius for melody and the projection of emotion in his music win the day, even though the story is dark and unappealing.

Performances run through February 25th; tickets at www.seattleopera.org or 206 389-7676.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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