Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Prom 67: The Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mahler’s Third

Mahler and I, at least in the concert hall, parted company over a decade ago - and with his Third Symphony it has been an even longer abandonment, fifteen years. Reviewing can nurture great love for music; but it can also become so obsessive for a single composer it can make one profoundly unresponsive to their music. This was my tragedy with Mahler.

A Landmark Revival of Sullivan's Haddon Hall

With The Gondoliers of 1889, the main period of Arthur Sullivan's celebrated collaboration with W. S. Gilbert came to an end, and with it the golden age of British operetta. Sullivan was accordingly at liberty to compose more serious and emotional operas, as he had long desired, and turned first to the moribund tradition of "Grand Opera" with Ivanhoe (1891).

Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth

Famously, controversy is the stuff of Bayreuth, be it artistic, philosophic or political. As well occasionally a Bayreuth production can simply be illuminating, as is the Barrie Kosky production of Wagner’s only comedy, Die Meistersinger.

The BBC Proms visit Ally Pally

On 25th March 1875, Gilbert & Sullivan’s one-act operetta, Trial by Jury, opened at the Royalty Theatre on Dean Street, in Soho. 131 performances and considerable critical acclaim followed, and it out-ran is companion piece, Offenbach’s La Périchole.

Prom 64: Verdi’s Requiem

“The power of sound” wrote Joseph Conrad, “has always been greater than the power of sense.” Verdi’s towering Requiem is all about the power of sound, not least because of all the great sacred works this is the one that least obviously seems sacred when you hear it.

Prom 62: Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic - one concert, two stellar sopranos

A concert programme that offers a ‘Concerto for coloratura soprano’ and four of Richard Strauss’s orchestral songs promises to tick every box on a lover of the soprano voice’s wish-list.

A brilliant celebration of Bernstein & co. from Wallis Giunta at Cadogan Hall

At the 2018 International Opera Awards, Irish-Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta was named ‘Young Singer of the Year’, having been awarded the same title by The Arts Desk in 2017, a year which also saw her pick up the ‘Breakthrough Artist in UK Opera’ award at the What’s on Stage Opera Awards. At this Cadogan Hall lunchtime chamber recital she was making her Proms debut, and Giunta gave an assured, audience-winning performance which suggested that such accolades are more than deserved and that it won’t be long before she’s invited back.

Porgy and Bess in Seattle

When this production debuted last summer at Glimmerglass, my Opera Today colleague James Sohre found it a thoroughly successful mounting of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's noble but problematic opera.

John Wilson takes the Prommers out On the Town

The Hollywood Reporter called it the greatest musical ever produced. Leonard Bernstein had expressed concerns about his first Broadway musical, writing to Aaron Copland, ‘Maybe it will be a great hit, and maybe it will lay the great egg of all time. It’s an enormous gamble’, but in the event, On the Town opened at Broadway’s Adelphi Theatre on 28th December 1944 to rave reviews and laid golden foundation stones for the career paths of its prodigious creators - Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins and writers Adolph Green and Betty Comden, whose average age at the time was twenty-seven.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Quinn Kelsey [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]
28 Oct 2017

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Quinn Kelsey [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]

 

Notable performances are also given by Matthew Polenzani as the Duke of Mantua and by Rosa Feola as Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda. The siblings Maddalena and Sparafucile are portrayed by Zanda Švēde and Alexander Tsymbalyuk. Count Monterone, Borsa, Count and Countess Ceprano, Marullo, Giovanna, and a page are sung by Todd Thomas, Mario Rojas, Alan Higgs, Whitney Morrison, Takaoki Onishi, Lauren Decker, and Diana Newman. Debut performances at Lyric Opera of Chicago are being given by Mmes. Feola, Švēde, and Morrison as well as by Messrs. Tsymbalyuk, Rojas, and Higgs. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is conducted by Marco Armiliato, and the Chorus Master is Michael Black. The production is owned by San Francisco Opera and is given under the direction of E. Loren Meeker.



During the orchestral prelude the dramatic tensions in Verdi’s score are revealed by the set design and the positioning of characters. A Renaissance courtyard is suggested by buildings framing either side of the stage. Doorways open out onto the courtyard - which will also function as the interior space of the Duke’s residence - allowing for fluid movements in multiple scenes. As the brass sound ominously, Mr. Kelsey’s Rigoletto emerges from a backdrop reddish glow surrounded by both his professional and domestic environments. While Rigoletto stares blankly forward, the audience is permitted a brief view of the Duke positioned behind Rigoletto with two women of the court in ornate costume. Gradually the light fades on the latter three characters, and the jester dons his fool’s costume and cap. At the conclusion of the prelude, courtiers stream out of the lateral doorways, a backdrop of arches descends, and the lively atmosphere of the Duke’s immoral residence prevails now as an interior.


The brief, first scene of Act One showcasing the Duke’s personality is staged with rapid movement. Interchanges with the courtiers concerning future conquests lead to the Duke’s aria, “Questa o quella” [“This woman or that one”]. Mr. Polenzani sings this aria with emphasis on his character’s determination, ending verses with frequent sustained, top notes; here a greater application of legato could bind the individual lines into an even more credible image. While the Duke searches for the Countess Ceprano, Rigoletto weaves about athletically and comments on the atmosphere of debauchery. Mr. Kelsey’s striking facial expressions and kinetic postures speak for a complete involvement in the role of jester. Kelsey’s voice rises in defiance when threatened by Ceprano, and he declares himself untouchable as “del Duca un protetto” (“a favorite of the Duke”). Once the courtiers conspire with Ceprano to exact revenge on the fool, Count Monterone enters demanding an audience. Mr. Thomas is appropriately stentorian as the nobleman seeking justice for a father’s grief. When Monterone is detained and led away from the court, Polenzani and Kelsey diverge in their reactions, the Duke showing indifference to the nobleman’s curse while the jester is now serious and shaken.


The transition to Rigoletto’s conversation with an assassin at the start of the following scene shows an effective maneuver of the stage. By means of corresponding lighting and blocking, the Duke’s court becomes a dim deserted street with a single, cloaked figure positioned in a doorway. As Rigoletto proceeds homeward, he is lost in thought, still musing on the powerful curse of Monterone. During his change out of jester’s clothing, performed significantly away from the setting of home, the assassin begins a conversation while elaborating on his murderous offer. Mr. Tsymbalyuk’s vibrant and even vocal delivery in describing his practice with Maddalena plants an unforgettable seed in Rigoletto’s complex of thoughts, as if invigorating Kelsey’s cry in his sustained note on “Quel vecchio maledivami!” (“The old man cursed me!”). While shrugging off such concerns from his public life at the court, Rigoletto opens the gate to his private sphere with the baritone’s voice here swelling defiantly to insist “Ah no, è follia!” Rigoletto’s domestic scene with his daughter Gilda shows Kelsey blending singing and acting in a convincing display of protective concern. Ms. Feola’s light voice seems at first especially comfortable in the middle range while she projects in her character both innocence and anticipation. During the course of the touching duet with her father the soprano shows a wider range and greater emotional color. Kelsey stands behind Gilda as a shield while softening top notes to emphasize his paternal affection. Feola’s understated approach gains intensity until the moment of Rigoletto’s departure, nearly coinciding with the arrival of the Duke. In the subsequent duet both singers embellish their lines to indicate a growing emotional attachment. Feola’s expressive delivery of “miei vergini sogni” captures the developing love which has invaded her “maiden dreams,” just as Polenzani intones “fama e gloria” as worthless attributes compared to this new love. At the sounds of Ceprano and other courtiers arriving outside for the planned abduction, the Duke takes leave preparing for lyrical and dramatic highlights that bring the act to a close. First, Gilda’s musing on the alleged name of the Duke in “Caro nome” (“Beloved name”) furnishes the soprano great opportunity for vocal and dramatic display. Feola uses aspirated notes at the start to inject a tone of anticipation into her admission of the quickened pulse of her heart (“festi primo palpitar”). Feola binds phrases gracefully and shows admirable breath control while acting the part of infatuated maiden. Trills are suggested, and top notes are sung cautiously, while phrases are sufficiently varied to create a convincing image. Perhaps the most striking moment in the ensuing drama begins after Rigoletto’s return in the darkness. The courtiers reveal a plan to abduct the wife of Ceprano while concealing their actual goal. Rigoletto is blindfolded and dons a mask so that he assists by holding a ladder to permit access unknowingly to his own home. Only Gilda’s belated cries alert the jester to his mistaken collusion. Kelsey’s portrayal of Rigoletto’s participation is remarkable primarily because of the silently delivered bodily movements and poses. His assumption of the character’s physical impairment is ever-present while he holds the ladder, yet an exaggerated grin of mistaken mischief remains visible beneath the mask. For several heartbreaking moments Kelsey stands alone, gripping the ladder in self-satisfaction, until the offstage cries of his daughter shatter the jester’s domestic world forever.


At the start of Act Two the Duke’s aria enumerating conflicting emotions on loss and recovery is given every possible shade of nuance by Polenzani. His gentle piano notes and introduction of wistful phrasing diminuendo characterize what the Duke feels he no longer possesses. Only after the conspirators reveal their prey does the Duke’s personality revert to the triumph of conquest, a tone invested with lively, vocal decoration in Polenzani’s reprise. The jester’s subsequent appeal to the courtiers that his daughter be released, “Cortigiani,” counts as one of the great baritone solo arias composed by Verdi. Kelsey sings this piece as an anguished lament tinged with desperation when he confronts the falsely trusted Marullo for information on Gilda. Stage lighting in the final moments of this aria emphasizes Rigoletto’s isolation from the courtiers, standing in dim recess, while Kelsey’s voice blooms with emotion on the last “Signori … pietate!” (“My lords … have pity!”). Once Gilda is returned to her father, she confesses the details of her growing infatuation with the nobleman. Tempos in “Tutte le feste” (“On all the holy days”) are taken slowly to encourage Feola’s delineation of a gradual, inescapable affection. In the concluding duet between father and child Kelsey and Feola sing truly as equal voices, the father swearing revenge, while Gilda begs that the Duke be forgiven. The final chilling top note is indeed shared dramatically, yet Kelsey’s ominous “Vendetta di quest’ anima” (“Revenge from my heart”) resounds even longer at the close.


The ensemble pieces of Act Three show in this production Rigoletto’s humble dwelling transformed on stage into the space for Sparafucile’s lair. Gilda and Rigoletto remain outside while the Duke enters and demonstrates, in his approach to Maddalena, the betrayal of Gilda’s innocent love. Polenzani’s performance of “La donna è mobile” (“Women are fickle”) captures the Duke’s swagger ideally, line and top notes securely in place, and with volume modulated throughout the piece to excellent effect. The following quartet (“Bella figlia dell’ amore” [“Fair daughter of love”]) between the pairs outside and inside of Sparfucile’s “rustica osteria” depends, as here, on a mastery of balance among the four singers. Ms. Švēde’s lush and deep repeat of “Ah! Rido ben di core” (“That really makes me laugh”) contrasts notably with Feola’s arching line recognizing betrayal. Gilda’s ultimate decision to sacrifice herself by taking the place of the Duke in her father’s murderous pact with Sparafucile becomes here an inevitable consequence of Rigoletto’s actions and the “maledizione.” (“curse”). Gilda’s love and innocence will remain, at best, as a memory.

Salvatore Calomino

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):