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Monterone’s Curse

San Diego
San Diego Opera
03/28/2009 -  and March 31, and April 3, 5, 8, 2009
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Lado Ataneli (Rigoletto), L’ubica Vargicová (Gilda), Giuseppe Gipali (Duke of Mantua), Arutjun Kotchinian (Sparafucile), Kirstin Chávez (Maddalena), Martha Jane Howe (Giovanna), Crystal Jarrell (Countess Ceprano/Page), Scott Sikon (Count Monterone), Robert Taylor (Count Ceprano), Joseph Hu (Borsa), Malcolm MacKenzie (Marullo), David Marshman (Guard)
San Diego Opera Chorus, Timothy Todd Simmons (Chorus Master), San Diego Opera Orchestra, Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Edoardo Müller (Conductor)
Lofti Mansouri (Director), Carl Toms (Scenic and Costume Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Michael Whitfield (Lighting Designer), Keturah Stickann (Choreographer)

G. Gipali, L. Ataneli (© Ken Howard)

Despite Giuseppe Verdi’s personal affections towards Stiffelio in 1850, this dramma lirico was so poorly received it virtually disappeared (even though the music was salvaged and found in the later operatic work Aroldo) (1857). Censorship then was rampant in Italy, and it carried forward into the Italian composer’s subsequent work, Rigoletto because of the controversial subject matter. This melodramma was based on the Victor Hugo play, Le roi s’amuse, one that Verdi held with great fascination.

Francesco Maria Piave’s initial libretto appalled the censors to the point that it had to be reworked in order to satisfy the aforementioned and Verdi himself. Despite coursing through a mayhem of machinations, Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was warmly received on March 11, 1851 at La Fenice. Today, Rigoletto is regularly performed, consistently retaining ownership in the standard repertoire, and is part of Verdi’s ‘popular trilogy’.

Director Lotfi Mansouri turns back the clock in this traditional staging set in the Italian Renaissance. Carl Toms’ lavish display of tasteful architecture and costuming builds the foundation of authenticity for the singers themselves. This production is truly a cornucopia of international stars.

The success of this Rigoletto, undoubtedly, lies in the hands of Lado Ataneli in the title role. Having sung Simon Boccanegra back in 2005, the Georgian-born baritone returns, providing the appropriate catalyst to set the entire cast into gear early on in Act I. Bedecked in a colorfully striped red and beige jester suit, he is easily recognized amidst the Duke’s guests that emblazon the stage wearing brocaded gold, reds and blacks. Mr. Ataneli’s sonority draws us into his soul as if we were his only child, feeling every ounce of raw emotion that continues to envelop us with feverish intensity and sentiment until his last cry of ‘Ah! La Maledizione!’

Making her San Diego Opera debut is Slovakian L’ubica Vargicová in the role of Gilda, tackling the vocal challenges with surprising ease. The soprano’s tessitura easily reaches both ends of the spectrum, allowing her to deftly accomplish improvised coloratura fireworks during the famous ‘Caro nome’ while comfortably transitioning into lyrical and dramatic singing in Acts II and III. L’ubica Vargicová is perfectly cast as Rigoletto’s daughter, and she dazzles the audience in every aspect imaginable.

While witnessing Keturah Stickann’s artistic choreography for the corps de ballet, we are introduced to the Duke of Mantua himself. Hailing from Albania, Giuseppe Gipali hits his notes with razor edge precision, but he struggles to be heard above the scenes involving the chorus. Contrasting in vocal intensity with the other principals, he finds himself appearing rather aloof and disjointed which weakens the overall intended melodramatic index. By Act III, however, he vindicates himself somewhat during the famous quartet, ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’, that includes strong performances by a beautifully seductive Maddalena, sung by returning Kirstin Chávez and Armenian bass Arutjun Kotchinian as Maddalena’s brother, Sparafucile.

Theatrical tensions are heightened through the perceptive lenses of lighting director Michael Whitfield, especially during the last act’s stormy night on the banks of the Mincio. Special commendation goes to Timothy Todd Simmons and his opera chorus members. Their highly animated acting and singing propels the energy forward in a conservatively tasteful manner, specifically citing the talents of Joseph Hu as Borsa and Malcolm MacKenzie as Marullo. Similarly, Martha Jane Howe’s Giovanna and Edoardo Müller’s orchestration reigns in satisfactory performances.

Rigoletto is a treasure that contains many familiar melodies. This production is full-bodied albeit with a few chinks in the armor. Nonetheless, San Diego Opera does ample justice to this middle-period Verdi score.

Christie Grimstad



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