There is a point in every tragedy in which the hero’s life begins to unravel. In Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 grand opera Rigoletto, that moment for the Duke of Mantua’s lowly court jester is the curse. The curse, in the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, brings about the downfall of an outwardly grotesque yet inwardly noble man. With some of Verdi’s most beloved melodies and music in all of the repertory, Opera Omaha‘s current production is a compelling contrast between pure tenderness and vengeance.
That contrast is never clearer than in the scenes and duets between Fabián Veloz as Rigoletto and his precious daughter Gilda, performed by Rachele Gilmore. Their tender and well-balanced duet singing juxtaposed his world-weariness and her innocence. Gilmore’s “Caro nome” was vocally buoyant and pure as was her singing throughout the rest of the evening. She clearly feels comfortable with this show-stopping aria and I was almost surprised that the audience did not clamor for an encore immediately after hearing her pitch perfect interpolated high E at the conclusion. Veloz, on the other hand, began to defiantly open up and explore new vocal colors at the end of the second act through the final act. His “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” was full of desperation and fearless rage against a backdrop of seeming adolescents. The impassioned singing he displayed with “Piangi, fanciulla, piangi…” grew to an emotionally wrenching “Oh, mia figlia! No, lasciarmi non dêi” displaying the full weight of the curse’s fate. Director Stephanie Havey‘s use of the red scrim to split the stage throughout the show made a powerful separation of Rigoletto from the other characters with a half lowered curtain — an almost Rothko-like stage picture to frame these inwardly emotional moments.
Dinyar Vania as the Duke of Mantua was a true vacillating character between the contrast of inwardly noble Rigoletto and Gilda and the grotesque Sparafucile and Maddalena perhaps being even more fickle than his famous aria “La donna è mobile” suggests of women. Vania’s most vocally compelling moments were the beginning of Act II with “Parmi veder le lagrime.” Audrey Babcock‘s Maddalena was every bit the bad girl with a luscious voice to match which never lost its presence in the third act quartet. Her seductive foil to Gilda’s purity made the second act sparkle with tension. Finally, the barbarous Sparafucile as performed by Burak Bilgili bristled with a truly ominous low F in suit with his sinister look. Heath Huberg as Borsa, Adam Cannedy as Marullo, Tyler Putnam as Count Ceprano, and Amanda DeBoer as Countess Ceprano also added vitality, forward momentum, and skilled singing to the production.
The Opera Omaha production of Rigoletto builds the tension both musically and dramatically to the final outcomes of the curse. Yet, it is not the terrible fate of the curse alone but the contrast between the grotesque and noble that makes this production compelling. There is one more opportunity to catch this emotionally compelling performance at the Orpheum Theater on Sunday, October 19th, 2014.