J. A. Di Bello’s Review of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto

Hudson Opera Theatre

First Presbyterian Church of Monroe

February 24, 2019

MALEDIZIONE

 

     On Sunday, February 24, the Hudson Opera Theatre, under the direction of the distinguished Maestro Ron De Fesi, brought one of the most significant works of the Italian Opera to the First Presbyterian Church of Monroe. In the heart of Hudson Valley, this production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto represented a continuation of the high quality of performance that is expected from the Hudson Opera Theatre, currently in its 42nd season.

Maestro De Fesi, as conductor, is undisputedly one who recognizes the quality and history associated with the Italian Opera. For many, Verdi’s, Rigoletto has stood as the foundation upon which “Italian Opera” is constructed.

He, Verdi, is rich, passionate and one capable of moving the human spirit through music. Further, his work prior to Rigoletto is frequently allied with the names of Mazzini, Garibaldi and the fighters of the Risorgimento, i.e., the men closely associated with the politics of removing the oppressive yoke of Austria from the Italian mainland.

 

Considering historical awareness, “Va, pensiero, also known as, “March of the Hebrew Slaves,” from the opera Nabucco, is coupled with the movement for the unification of Italy. At the time, the slogan "Viva Verdi" was used, it is said, as an acronym for “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia."  Giuseppe Verdi’s early achievements in the allied genres of entertainment arts and politics firmly place him beside Roberto Rossellini in Italy’s 20th century struggle against fascism.

Rigoletto is an opera written in 4 acts and frequently brought to the stage in 3, set in Mantua, sixteenth century, Italy.  Its original title La maledizione, refers to the striking event in the first act: Count Monterone, an unwelcomed visitor with a cause, arrives at the palace of the Duke of Mantua, and following a verbal altercation, he convincingly places la maledizione, on Rigoletto.  So severe his curse; it causes physical distress, as well as mental anguish. Triggering this action, Count Monterone is splendidly and credibly portrayed by Nathan Resika, a bass-baritone.  His standing, stature and appearance contain that critical element of malice and evil.  Credibility and focus of purpose are so essential at this early point; for everything that happens for the remainder of the drama is a result of Monterone’s maledizione.  Resika makes it happen!

Further and a case for the theatrical concept of credibility, is the splendid sixteenth-century costumes designed by Christa Damaris and Sandy Bradman. These thoughtful designs assist an aware audience that Italians living in sixteenth-century Mantua could quite reasonably hold a strong belief in the legitimate existence of the la maledizione.  It is, after all, just a short stretch to the existence of today’s il malocchio.

To emphasize Verdi’s theme and less-than-subtle signs of foreshadowing, Maestro De Fesi’s Orchestra is virtually continuous as the scenes of this sad tale unfold. Following the prelude, the frivolity of the Duke’s grand party dominates the stage as Gerardo Gaytán delivers with eagerness the Duke’s memorable "Questa o quella," a flippant and cynical salute to his less than admirable character. It is here that De Fesi’s orchestra changes tone for the entrance of Count Monterone and his encounter with the mocking jester, Rigoletto. Robert Garner’s stimulating portrayal of a traumatized Rigoletto assures an acute awareness of the curse!

The second scene opens with the Sparafucile-Rigoletto duet, composed largely of recitatives, with the melody carried by the orchestra. Sparafucile elegantly and most believable is brought to life on the Monroe stage by Andrew Martens. Here music foreshadows the action. But before that and to slow the pace and bring the beauty of the young, chaste daughter of Rigoletto to the stage, we’re introduced to Jennifer Gliere. Gilda is young, inexperienced and overflowing with a generous supply of the appropriate hormones. Jennifer clearly projects this concept in herexcellent delivery of the well-known and popular aria, “Cara nome.” Gilda’s in love in a manner that only a young woman of that age can experience. And for the element of dramatic irony, she’s head-over-heels with a lover whose true identity remains unknown to her. Even when she discovers his lecherous identity, she remains tragically steadfast!

Interesting it is that Verdi’s musical composition for this new direction in opera assigns the most popular and memorable arias to the most unlikeable scoundrel, the Duke of Mantua. The melodies are so unique and clever, they remain with the audience. This characteristic is a true indication of the trend-setting nature of Verdi and Rigoletto. There are few who will not remember the iconic melodies of “La donna è mobile,” and “Questa o quella,” as they exit theatre. Think now for a moment in terms of trends of how this concept remained in musical theatre through the next century. Dated is the thought perhaps: But how large is the crowd that exited a Broadway theatre in 1949 humming and/or singing “I am Gonna Wash that Man Right outa My Hair.” Theatrical savvy thrives!

Changing lanes to a different league and level of musical shrewdness is the quartet in the final act of this fateful drama. The combination of Gaytán, the Duke, Kathleen Reveille as Maddalena, Jennifer Gliere as Gilda and Robert Garneras as Rigoletto cannot legitimately be called a quartet and is more accurately categorized as a double duet or in this case this writer prefers “dueling duet" “Bella figlia dell'amore” is one of the most awe-inspiring double duets in all of opera. In this live performance Maesto De Fesi, his cast, chorus and orchestra audaciously delivered “Bella figlia...” on mark. It was the musical highpoint of the evening: Live performance, no enrichments, no fancy technology, it was awesome musicianship. “One of Verdi’s crown jewels!”

Complications reveled in plot unfold as characters move through their paces and confront the consequences of their deeds. So it is in Rigoletto, as a storm is brewed by an echoing orchestra and a humming chorus. It’s the sound, the sound of the wind purposefully combined with flashes of lightning. Thunder claps bring an anticipated death to the stage.

Stunning in this production is Hudson Valley resident Kathleen Reveille. As an internationally recognized “dark mezzo,” she’s scheduled to make her Carnegie Hall debut as the Mezzo Soloist in Mozart’s Requiem. Maestro De Fesi prudently uses this level of talent in Rigoletto, as Ms. Reveille displays her talent in 4 different roles. Brava x 4!

Also of noted talent are bass Charles Carter as Count Cerprano and Justin Scott Randolph a fine and traveled tenor as Matteo Borsa.

Enthusiastic is unquestionably an appropriate word to describe the tenor Kevin Courtemanche in his role of Marullo. His actions and gait reflect his vigor and energy. Also, and this is a good time, Mr. Courtemanche will make role debut as Goto, in Hudson Opera Theatre’s presentation of Puccini’s glorious and everlasting Madama Butterfly, June 1st and 2nd, 2019.

 

To continue with worthy announcements from this opera theatre, there’s an additional gem entering the arena. Bezet’s Carmen will be live, on stage at the Hudson Opera Theatre, April 13th and 14th. This year marks the theatre’s 42nd Anniversary Season.  Maestro De Fesi’s crown of high Cs!

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