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Solid Performance in Title Role Carries This Rigoletto

San Jose
Montgomery Theatre
02/03/2001 -  4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, and 25, February, 2001
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Scott Bearden/Richard Taylor (Rigoletto), Sandra Rubalcava/Heather Calvete (Gilda), Jonathan Hodel/Thomas Truhitte (Duke of Mantua), Adam Flowers/Christopher Fernandez (Borsa), Joseph Wright (Marullo), Douglas Nagel/Joseph Kinyon (Monterone), Paul Linnes/Branch Fields (Sparafucile), Kristin Rothfuss/Tina Osinski (Maddalena), Monica Barnes (Giovanna), Jesse Merlin (Count Ceprano), Natalie Wilson (Countess Ceprano), Nicole Takesono/Anne Marie Daniel (Page), Woody Moore (Usher)
Opera San Jose Orchestra and Chorus: Sara Jobin, Conductor
Bodo Igesz, Stage Director

As many opera companies have around the world, Opera San Jose commemorated the centennial of Giuseppe Verdi’s death with a production of one of the composer’s many works in the standard repertory. And as with other companies, the difficulties in casting his operas was evident, though not in the expected way. The company’s production of Rigoletto featured a strong performance by Scott Bearden in the title role but both Sandra Rubalcava’s Gilda and Jonathan Hodel’s Duke fell short of the mark.

Directed by Bodo Igesz, this Rigoletto played itself out in a world more decrepit than decadent. Peter Crompton’s unit set created a decaying Mantua, the walls discolored by mold and oozing moisture, a world where the few green living things struggled to survive. As a metaphor for the moral decay of the Mantua Court as personified by the Duke, the concept fits the story suitably. The only problem visually was that the heavy brocade costumes were done in much the same color palate of warm rusts, browns and oranges. There was little color variation between sets and costumes, giving little focus too much of the cast, including principals.
Rigoletto is one of the great complex roles in the baritone repertory. A father, a widower and a court jester, he can be in turn heartless, loving, vengeful, petty, noble and protective. Bearden did a remarkably fine job of highlighting the contrasting and conflicting aspects of Rigoletto’s personality. If the facets did not bind together in a cohesive whole, it was still an accomplished performance. Bearden’s lyric baritone lacks the strength and depth in the middle and lower registers as yet, but his voice has plenty of power and expressive intensity in the upper range where so many of the key phrases lie. Bearden also has an innate sense of the Verdian musical line and imbued his performance with musical, emotionally powerful phrasing.

After her earlier appearances with the company, expectations for Rubalcava’s Gilda were high. Unfortunately, on opening night, the vivacious young soprano was not at her best. A general lack of confidence inhibited her performance. Whether from technical problems not yet solved or unsuitability for the role, the lower and middle registers lacked the fullness and warmth while the top was frequently out of tune. Her “Caro nome” sounded tentative, as if the singer was still working on the role and it was not yet in her voice. Hers was a tender, sensitive Gilda, easily seduced by the Duke and wracked with anguish as she poured out her heart to her father in the duet the ends the second act. Rubalcava has the potential for a fine Gilda once her technique is secured, but at present it was a work in progress.

The Duke has a good deal of wonderful music to sing, but beyond the musical appeal, the character himself has little to recommend. The role can be play as an exuberant libertine or a heartless womanizer but needs to be played decisively either way. Hodel seemed to be unable to decide on an approach to the role and came across as a cipher dramatically. He sang the role with plenty of verve and strength, but with little elegance and grace to give the music its due.

Most of the supporting roles were strongly cast, starting with Douglas Nagel’s Monterone, commanding in both presence and singing. Paul Linnes’s casual, confident Sparafucile displayed a promising young bass of warmth and depth while Kristin Rothfuss as his sister, Maddalena was clearly the Duke’s equal for hedonistic pleasure. Adam Flowers showed continuing development as Borsa and Joseph Wright once again displayed an effortless charisma as Marullo, his youthful vigor compensating for an underdeveloped vocal refinement.

After a prelude that threatened to run over itself with impatience, Conductor Sara Jobin relaxed into a reading of the score that supported the singers sensitively, but sometimes at the expense of the dramatic continuity.
Despite the popularity of both the soprano and tenor arias in Rigoletto, a performance of the opera lives or dies with the performance of the title character. Opera San Jose made a canny choice in showcasing Bearden’s talents in the role. The audience was well aware that it was seeing something special and responded with an enthusiastic and well-deserved ovation.

Kelly Snyder



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