Rigoletto, Melodramma in three acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo (1832)
New-to-Chicago production. Owned by the San Francisco Opera Association.
This review is for the Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of October 7, 2017, at the Civic Opera House, in Chicago, IL.
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Rigoletto: Quinn Kelsey°°
Gilda: Rosa Feola*
Duke of Mantua: Matthew Polenzani°°
Sparafucile: Alexander Tsymbalyuk*
Maddalena: Zanda Švēde*
Count Monterone: Todd Thomas
Borsa: Mario Rojas*°
Marullo: Takaoki Onishi°
Count Ceprano: Alan Higgs*°
Countess Ceprano: Whitney Morrison*°
Giovanna: Lauren Decker°
A Page: Diana Newman°
An Usher: Kenneth Nichols
Original Production: Mark Lamos
Director: E. Loren Meeker
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Constance Hoffman
Lighting Designer: Chris Maravich
Chorus Master: Michael Black
* Lyric debut
° Current member, Ryan Opera Center
°° Alumnus, Ryan Opera Center
Caruso once said that all it takes for successful performance of “Rigoletto” is three top singers–oh, no he didn’t. I made this up for the performance of Lyric Opera of Chicago seen last Saturday. Honestly, I’m still annoyed by the decision of Lyric Opera mounting yet another “Rigoletto” while their last run of this opera was just five seasons ago. For an opera company having only 8 productions per season, it is better to reserve the limited space for a broader repertoire. Yet when facing such a brilliant cast, I cannot say I would rather substitute it with something else. Maybe they should not have done “Rigoletto” five seasons ago. One needs such a cast like what we have this season to make the revival worthy.
Much buzz has been made on the two males, Quinn Kelsey as the title role and Matthew Polenzani as the Duke of Mantua, both Ryan Opera Center alumni and Lyric favorites singing on Lyric’s stage frequently. Yet, it was the relatively unknown Italian soprano, Rosa Feola, making her Lyric debut in the role of Gilda, that left the strongest impression.
Actually, Feola is no stranger for Chicago audience having appeared with Chicago Symphony Orchestra several times, all with maestro Riccardo Muti conducting. In concert repertoire, though, it is harder to see (and better not to see too much) personality. She was very musical in those. Then, last year she sang Nanetta in CSO’s concert performance of “Falstaff”. A small part, and she sang adorably.
Still, it’s a completely different level of experience when seeing her in a staged performance. This singer has everything–voice, technique, style, acting, and personality. The latter two not only present in binocular–which will for sure transfer to HD that is certainly important in this age–but also transfer in the large auditorium. The latter, for me, is more important for live theater but is a rarer quality. Most memorable were in Act 3 when her Gilda standing outside the inn overhearing Duke flirting with Maddalena, just by standing there, Feola’s body was burdened with such tension that the soulful sadness just emerged and spread out into the whole auditorium (admitted, the lighting helped as well). Also, she is Italian. It was evident to hear the benefit of singing in the native tongue. On stage, she was the one that combined the words and music best (I read she has done a lot of coaching with Renata Scotto in Rome, which, I’m sure, helps.). And then, all these elements were held together to create a character with layers. It was never a nice singing bird emitting out some beautiful tone. It was the girl Gilda who had developed her youth dream as every other youth yet with a rather strange life experience behind. And it was this kind of confliction that resulted in the overflowed and misplaced energy of Gilda. One can hear it clearly the bouncing dynamic tension Feola created as Gilda when facing Rigoletto and Duke. In “Caro nome”, all the technically challenging (or, showy) parts–trills, jumps, scales–were under the frame of larger phrasing presented as the expression of feeling. And her painting of vocal color in Gilda’s death scene was also memorable. If I must find some fault of her performance, it is during the storm scene. It seems her voice was a LITTLE bit (really just a little bit) on the lighter side. Give her one or two years, it will be perfect then, I’m sure.
I have the feeling she could be the next real deal of opera world. In his most recent review on Observer, James Jorden, a reviewer I admire and often echo, wrote: “If I had to wager on who might become the next Netrebko-level opera superstar, I’d bet on Angel Blue.” I’d bet on Rosa Feola. Admitted, I haven’t heard Angel Blue live, but JJ hasn’t heard Feola live as well. So, it’s a fair game. Still, we need to remember that Netrebko is a special phenomenon hard to copy and it is never a good idea to put a young singer in the same sentence with the Prima Donna. Rosa Feola is Rosa Feola having her own voice, her own music style, her own personality, not a new Netrebko (Isn’t this a rather cheap term for every beautiful looking young emerging Russian/former USSR area/East European soprano?). Meanwhile, I should admit I did have some bit impression that Feola seems to have a hard-to-describe similarity with early Netrebko (which, unfortunately, I can only experience on recorded audio and video) for the youthful energy, the comfort, joy, and excitement of being on stage–maybe more of the light-Russian-repertoire Netrebko than the -ina Netrebko. I think the next 5 years would be crucial to her career. Currently, her light voice still limits her in a relatively small or off-beat repertoire (which I don’t mean being artistically inferior, but certainly less star-making). If her voice can grow a step richer and she manages to pace herself well while developing, I cannot imagine she not becoming a star.
Were it not a megastar at the horizon as Rosa Feola, it would have been hard to believe any Gilda could steal the show from Quinn Kelsey’s Rigoletto. As people having been mourning the death of true Verdi baritone, Kelsey seems to be the hope for many. The basic voice does not have the last measure of elegance an Italianate baritone has at its best, it is a powerful and deep instrument nevertheless. He brought a lot of dramatic excitement into his singing and displayed a huge range of emotion. Though sometimes, for me, it crossed the line of good taste a little bit. As violent as Rigoletto gets, it is still a Verdi role, not Verismo.
While Quinn Kelsey’s problem might be “too much”, Matthew Polezoni’s problem was the opposite. He’s a nice, elegant, and sincere singer. But as a character, the temperament was missing. There was no dangerousness in this Duke. When at its best, Duke of Mantua could be a Don-Giovanni-like character (portrayed less positively, though), while Polezoni seems kind of “glued” on Don Octavio, a role in which he has been widely acclaimed. He looks and sounds more like Gualtier Maldè disguised as Duke of Mantua than Duke of Mantua disguised as Gualtier Maldè. Certainly, Gilda fell in love for him. But how he could attract Maddalena, I don’t understand.
As Sparafucile, Alexander Tsymbalyuk had no weight or dark color in his voice. It is no news that true bass is lacking in this age. Still, that made the contrast of vocal color of the duet between Sparafucile and Rigoletto missing. Zanda Švēde did her job in the role of Maddalena, though giving nothing to take home with.
Under the baton of Marco Armiliato, the orchestra provided 100% support to the singers. The production created by Mark Lamos for San Fransico Opera in last century was boring. The unit set designed by Michael Yeargan was empty. Costumes designed by Constance Hoffman provided what it should provide. Lighting designed by Chris Maravich illustrated the atmosphere efficiently. Given with this not perfect production, director E. Loren Meeker did some admirable job on it. Highlights include the triangular dynamic among Duke, Rigoletto, and Count Monterone in Act 1, and the bouncing between Rigoletto and Duke’s court during “Cortigiani”.