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11 May 2013

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent series of Rigoletto performances featured several such opportunities. In the second half of the run Željko Lučić sang the baritone role of the jester Rigoletto with utmost dramatic conviction and vocal skills honed to match this impression. The Duke of Mantua was sung by Giuseppe Filianoti, and the part of Gilda featured the debut season of Albina Shagimuratova. Significant contributions were also provided by Andrea Silvestrelli as Sparafucile and Nicole Piccolomini as Maddalena. Evan Rogister conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Ian Robertson served as Guest Chorus Master.

The sets for first scene of Act I of Lyric Opera’s Rigoletto suggested the sumptuous interior of a Renaissance court. These images would then contrast with the simplicity of Rigoletto’s home and the various architectural exteriors suggested in the second scene of Act I. The Duke’s opening song, “Questa o quella,” showed Filianoti to advantage. His top notes were secure, a smooth legato was produced effortlessly, and he expressed the word “amore” with tasteful decoration. From the start of Rigoletto’s mocking commentary directed at Count Ceprano one was struck by the resonant fullness of Lučić’s voice. His sensitivity to vocal line and its dramatic import was evident even more in his address to Count Monterone. While deriding the Count, whose daughter was defiled by the Duke, Lučić shaded his voice by means of diminuendo to heighten the comedy of his charge. As the scene at the court concluded -- and both the Duke and Rigoletto are cursed by Monterone -- the chorus was allowed overly vehement orchestral support, such that Monterone’s curse was not sufficiently audible.

In the subsequent scene en route to Rigoletto’s domestic setting Lučić communicated his character’s troubled thoughts at having been denounced at court. His vocal modulations were here extensions of an inner transformation that persisted until he encountered the assassin Sparafucile. The confrontation between both personalities was filled with tension and hints of future contact. Silvestrelli’s impressive vocal range ascended easily to top notes when identifying himself while concluding his final pitch with a chillingly deep and menacing emphasis. When Rigolettto reacts to the offer of the departing assassin, he muses on his own position of buffone as an outsider as well. As if to shake off these thoughts, Lučić proclaimed with a ringing, precise high pitch “E follia!” as he entered his domain.

The scene between father and daughter was convincingly portrayed. Ms. Shagimuratova is clearly quite comfortable in the vocal range for Gilda so that she is able to add individual touches to her interpretation. In her duet with Lučić, for example, Shagimuratova let her voice gently yet accurately touch the higher notes as her feelings grew in intensity. Rigoletto’s piano on “angelo” when recalling Gilda’s mother was matched by Shagimuratova shading her voice to a near whisper of the lyrical line on “Addio mio padre.”

Although Rigoletto had, of course, cautioned the maidservant Giovanna not to allow visitors access, she is here depicted as herself succumbing to the charms of the Duke masquerading as a student. The ensuing duet between Gilda and Gualtier Maldè, assumed name of the student, suggested the budding passion between both principals. At this point Shagimuratova sang with clear forte emphasis whereas Filianoti began to exhibit strain on the higher pitches of his part. Once they took leave with well executed final notes, Gilda was left alone to muse on her feelings in her aria “Caro nome.” Shagimuratova made of this scene a memorable showpiece. Her slightly breathless approach at the start of the aria indicated her growing infatuation with the student/Duke. The singer’s legato used through the next section of the aria suggested an unbroken, spun line, while vibrato was judiciously placed with feeling expressiveness. Shagimuratova continued the aria while lying on her back and clutching a pillow, as though reaching for an imagined beloved, just as her decoration at the close of “Caro nome” was exemplary. Gilda’s abduction was staged with minimal props, in keeping with the depiction of the locale, such that ultimate attention was focused on Rigoletto’s loss.
At the start of Act Two Filianoti gave a credible portrayal of the Duke’s personality. His lament “Parmi veder le legrime” was capped with a trill, while the joyous “Possente amor” was sung with ebullient decoration. At Rigoloetto’s entrance and his aia “Cortigiani” Lučić varied his vocal technique from earlier with ever-growing desperation. High notes were shaded piano, and “pieta” at the close was emitted as an expansive plea. The final duet with Gilda, “Tutte le feste,” showed both characters here caught in the drama and intrigue of the court while each sang from a differing emotional base.

In the final act the famous tenor aria, “La donna è mobile,” and the quartet of principals each received distinctive treatment. Filianoti sang his aria with a practiced melodic swagger and, later during the repeat, ended the aria with a falsetto pitch. In the role of Maddalena, Nicole Piccolomini sang with a riveting middle and low register, her voice penetrating throughout the quartet and in her subsequent demands to Sparafucile to spare the Duke’s life. In the final scene as staged Lučić’s Rigoletto seemed trapped by the buildings and closed doors as he held the sack with his dying daughter. His repeated pleas to the fading Gilda with variation upward in vocal line gave to the tragedy its lyrical and emotional close.

Salvatore Calomino

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