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Darn Close to Perfect

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
01/28/2012 -  & January 31, February 3, 5, 8, 11 (Miami), 16, 18 (Fort Lauderdale), 2012
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Michael Fabiano (Duke of Mantua), Mark Walters (Rigoletto), Nadine Sierra (Gilda), Joo Won Kang (Monterone), Kevin Langan (Sparafucile), Dana Beth Miller (Maddalena), Margaret Gawrysiak (Giovanna), Ryan Milstead (Marullo), Jason Ferrante (Borsa), Craig Colclough (Count Ceprano), Courtney McKeown (Countess Ceprano), Brittany Ann Renée Robinson (Page)
Florida Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus, John Keene (chorus master), Andrew Bisantz (conductor)
Jeff Buchman (director), Allen Charles Klein (set design), Camilla Haith (costume coordinator), Jeff Davis (lighting design), Rosa Mercedes (choreography)

N. Sierra & M. Walters (© R. Zendarski/FGO)

With Luisa Fernanda and La rondine Florida Grand Opera got off to an atypical and rather daring start. But by this time, the audience must be ready for one of their familiar friends. When an audience has seen so many Rigoletto’s there are bound to be some who loved so-and-so’s “Caro Nome” more and thought that since the baritone has not sung yet at the Met, he couldn’t be worthwhile; so doing a standard is not easy. Even the great companies have a turkey now and then. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the Met broadcasts. Even the stars have their off nights and matinees.

So South Florida gets a baritone, who has not yet sung the role at the Met, yet undoubtedly will someday; hopefully for him, soon. Mark Walters has already sung Giorgio Germont, Enrico and Escamillo with Florida Grand Opera and each time left a distinguish stamp on these overly performed roles. This jester is not an old man. He might be in his late 30s at most; let’s face it, his life has been intensely severe, his bitterness is justified. Walters’ pitch and tone are always perfect. His is not a huge voice but the placement couldn’t be more precise and the sweetness is a rarity. And as fine as his jester is now, imagine how much richer it will be by the end of this run and after other productions. The materials for a major Verdi baritone are here.

Nadine Sierra, like Walters is something special even in this world of very good sopranos. We all say to ourselves, “but what could anyone bring to this character now?” Perhaps Sierra brings nothing new but instead respects it and has the integrity to make us feel we are seeing Rigoletto for the first time. Her duets with the men would be high points for any evening. And though you might think you have heard her two arias way too many times, she approaches them with a freshness that keeps you riveted. Musically she was the star of the evening.

Michael Fabiano comes to Florida Grand Opera with some good baggage: his memorable turn in The Audition and some fine recent notices. He does not disappoint. Quite the contrary, this is the tenor we have been waiting for: a voice from the old school, with looks, acting ability and a very striking stage presence. Lots of good tenors have been surfacing lately but none has the magnetism of Fabiano. He might prove to be today’s Corelli.

Yet in this production, each of these fine artists was hampered by an overzealous director, Fabiano may have received the most harm. Singing “Questo o Quella” he is upstaged by a chorus of female dancers that looks just plain silly. During “Ella mi fu rapita!” the Duke’s arms and legs are constantly stroked by the two women with whom he just had a three-way. The tenor is singing one of the most difficult arias in the Italian repertory only to be upstaged by the supernumeraries. Gilda gets disrespected in her final scene by becoming a ghost that sings the duet while her father caresses a doll representing her corpse. So we never get to really see one of opera’s most powerful death scenes. And Walters wears a red hairpiece so that he resembles Tintin. Was the director trying to suggest that Rigoletto is really Gilda’s brother? It could be a situation where he is just a very over-protective brother, but does this provide anything that is really useful or thought-provoking, or is it just a director’s opportunity to show off, to present something never done before?
At the same time, there were a couple of really nice touches like the great prosthetic showing Rigoletto’s deformity. It is very disturbing yet touching when Gilda assists him. And when Monterone, sung by the impressive Joo Wan Kang, makes his first entrance, it is with his violated daughter; we get a premonition of Gilda’s experience. It was also interesting for Gilda’s kidnapping to be brought off realistically and to see her hostile reaction to the Duke after the courtiers deliver her.
Kevin Langan, always reliable at FGO, makes Sparafucile respectable which compared to most of the other male characters he is. Dana Beth Miller has a darkness of tone suggesting a contralto more than a mezzo, which she uses to nearly walk off with the opera with her late entrance. Rigoletto is always R-rated, but her moments with the Duke on the stairway border on NC-17. Way to go, Ms. Miller.

Conductor Andrew Bisantz continues his winning streak bringing colors one may have never heard before. He is welcome anytime and how nice it would be to hear him approach a less familiar piece. With a musical team like this, the production borders on monumental. If only the director would drop the silliness, it would be.

Jeff Haller



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