It’s a quite natural thing for music, opera, and dramatic works to experience shifts in excepted performance practices over time. Catchy new ideas and variations implemented over time are adopted as the norm and we find ourselves watching a performance that only partially resembles what the original creator intended.
Sarasota Opera’s artistic director Victor DeRenzi stands firm in his determination to bring the operas of Verdi to this audience just as the were intended when composed in the mid-19th century. And true to his word, he has done just that for 30 years.
And so he and the many talents of the Sarasota Opera opened their season this year with an extraordinarily impactful "Rigoletto," one of the most popular of all Verdi operas.
You know the story, the jester Rigoletto has a beautiful daughter who is raped and betrayed by her secret love, the lascivious Duke of Mantua. Rigoletto seeks revenge, but Gilda gives her own life to save the Duke. Thus, a curse from an old man falls upon poor Rigoletto.
Marked by consistent and solid high performance levels, the production glows from within due to a fine blend of beautiful voices with acting skill. Marco Nestico masterfully covered the entire range of emotion welling from poor Rigoletto’s sad life. Introduced with biting barbs of the jester, his strength then melted into flowing lines in his first duet with Gilda.
Gilda was brought to life by Eleni Calenos, a gifted soprano making her debut with the Sarasota Opera. Her portrayal was seamless, convincing and overwhelmingly tender. Not that there were significant demands on her voice. After a passionate duet encounter with the Hak Soo Kim’s Duke of Mantua, Caleno soared nimbly through an unornamented “Caro Nome,” the second most popular aria of this opera.
The dog-like ways of Kim’s Duke were amply demonstrated from the beginning. This is one of opera’s biggest tenor roles and Kim handled it confidently and convincingly with a voice we had to love, despite his lack of shame. For many, the big moment is that well-known ditty, “La Donna mobile.” Sung just as he’s about to seduce yet another woman, the lilting melody camouflages that callous betrayal it conveys to Gilda. While it was sung true to Verdi’s original score, without the high B big punch ending as our ears are used to, Kim nonetheless drew ample applause for it.
Numerous other singers and characters made this production work so well. Bass Young Bok Kim as the assassin Sparafucile made the most of his rich lower range with this character. One can imagine no better street-wise tart than Heather Johnson singing the role of Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister who begged to spare the Duke’s life. And the Count of Monterone, the old man whose curse haunted Rigoletto, was portrayed by Matthew Hanscom. Stephanie Sundine’s stage direction matched with richly detailed set design, costumes and lighting provided by David Gordon, Howard Tsvi Kaplan and Ken Yunker, created a credible world for this story to unfold.
This remarkable production would have been lacking foundation without two things. First, the men’s chorus was remarkably strong singing several juicy and important scenes to the story line. And finally, the Sarasota Orchestra playing in the pit under the direction of Victor DeRenzi was musically very satisfying.