Dark was the night: Rigo­letto

Pasatiempo - - JENNIFER GOES -

Bari­tone Quinn Kelsey un­ques­tion­ably has the vo­cal equip­ment to fit the ti­tle role in Verdi’s Rigo­letto .He showed sonic scope that could con­vey lyric del­i­cacy as well as force­ful out­bursts as the hap­less court jester, one of the most heart­break­ing roles ever crafted by the master of op­er­atic tragedy. His ef­fort­less tone was dark enough to in­fuse his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion with the gravitas re­quired, but it was il­lu­mi­nated with a luster that en­sured clear pro­jec­tion through­out the house.

So­prano Ge­or­gia Jar­man acted the part of his daugh­ter, Gilda, with forth­right sim­plic­ity and dis­played the vo­cal heft, tim­bre, and agility needed to meet its de­mands. One of the evening’s high points was her aria “Caro nome,” which started in love­li­ness and ended five min­utes later in oth­er­worldly beauty — her col­oratura en­com­pass­ing some clearly ar­tic­u­lated, sus­tained trills, to boot. Con­duc­tor Jader Big­namini had led a sturdy in­ter­pre­ta­tion up to that point, but in the aria he and the or­ches­tra sup­ported her mus­ings by al­low­ing breath­ing room of their own. Jar­man’s aria “Tutte le feste al tem­pio” was sim­i­larly af­fect­ing, and the duet with her fa­ther into which it es­ca­lates was one of the evening’s most touch­ing high points.

Bruce Sledge was a ca­pa­ble Duke of Man­tua, re­mote in his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion but clean and clear in his vo­cal­ism. He is an ac­com­plished lyric tenor, bring­ing vo­cal light­ness and mu­si­cal clar­ity to the role, and one might jus­tify his dra­matic aloof­ness as not in­ap­pro­pri­ate to a part in which a Duke does stand so­cially apart from his courtiers. In the smaller roles, par­tic­u­lar ex­cite­ment was gen­er­ated by mezzo-so­prano Ni­cole Pic­colo­mini, as the pros­ti­tute Mad­dalena. One hopes this com­pany de­but will not be her last ap­pear­ance here. Bass Peixin Chen had the req­ui­site range for Spara­fu­cile but took a foursquare ap­proach to the part, which would ben­e­fit from a more rep­til­ian in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Lee Blake­ley’s pro­duc­tion was frus­trat­ing. Adrian Lin­ford de­signed the sets and cos­tumes. The sets seemed cramped, of­ten in­volv­ing de­crepit Ital­ian Re­nais­sance ex­te­ri­ors or in­te­ri­ors set askew and crowded onto the stage’s busy turntable. The cos­tumes are an ex­er­cise in puz­zle­ment. The light­ing, by Rick Fisher, was also con­fus­ing, with scaf­folds and lat­tice­work cast­ing shad­ows on the per­form­ers’ faces and fail­ing to guide view­ers’ eyes through the jum­ble of ac­tiv­ity Blake­ley im­posed.

Notwith­stand­ing its en­thu­si­asm for orgy scenes, this pro­duc­tion finds its most com­pelling mo­ments when the fewest par­tic­i­pants are in ac­tion. Even then, one might wish that key mo­ments of the char­ac­ters’ re­ac­tions were di­rected more point­edly, that the pro­duc­tion made a bit more of the melo­dra­matic flashes that give this grim opera its pe­cu­liar charm, and that it took care to never de­flect at­ten­tion from the ex­cel­lent mu­si­cian­ship that makes the evening mem­o­rable.

Ad­di­tional per­for­mances of “Rigo­letto” take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 10, 15, 19, 25, and 28. Ryan McKinny and Alex Penda in Salome; op­po­site page, left, Anna Christy and Alek Shrader in La fille du rég­i­ment; right, Quinn Kelsey and Ge­or­gia Jar­man in Rigo­letto; all photos © Ken Howard­for Santa Fe Opera, 2015

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