Dark was the night: Rigoletto
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