Review by Alex Brooks
The Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre has chosen the Verdi classic Rigoletto as its major production this year, which brings a world-class production of one of the greatest works of opera to the small town of Cambridge, NY. Benjamin Bloomfield who plays Rigoletto, and Meghan Picerno who plays his daughter Gilda, are clearly up and coming stars of the New York opera world, and their performances here are riveting.
[private]Rigoletto, living in a corrupt world controlled by the womanizing Duke of Mantua, tries to preserve the virtue and purity of his daughter by hiding her away, and the action of the play is the story of the inevitable failure of his attempt and the disastrous consequences that ensue when his anguish turns to revenge.
The opera is based on an 1832 play by Victor Hugo, the great French writer known for Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo set his play in the French court, and as a result the play closed after one performance, because the King and his retinue did not want to see themselves portrayed that way. Verdi also had troubles with censors, who objected to a portrayal of an immoral king served by sycophantic courtiers aiding and abetting his schemes. Verdi managed to get permission to put on his show by moving the action to an Italian dukedom that no longer existed. It was an immediate success, and has remained popular, being one of the top ten most often produced operas.
Director Kirk Jackson notes that the opera, over the years, has been set in “a variety of corrupt worlds, from Mafia dominated 1950s Little Italy to Mussolini’s fascist Italy to a 1960s Las Vegas casino.” Jackson has chosen to set this production in a 1930s traveling circus, so the Duke becomes the Ringmaster, the courtiers become circus roustabouts, and Rigoletto is a circus clown rather than a court jester. The setting therefore looks like a circus ring, but the staging doesn’t insist on the specific setting and instead emphasizes the universality of the story.
One of the things that made the opera an instant hit is the Duke’s aria “La donna e mobile” (women are fickle), a tune that nearly everyone has heard, being one of the greatest hits of opera. Chris Lucier’s rendition of this song is wonderful, as is his singing in general, although his portrayal of the Duke is a little thin dramatically.
The roustabout chorus is a wonderful collection of young professionals and talented amateurs. Their sound is one of the highlights of the production. But the most spectacular part of the show is the many duets of Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda, which is the heart of the show both musically and emotionally. Bloomfield and Picerno have quite a chemistry, and their connection feels deep and real. Picerno makes the difficult vocal acrobatics of the coloratura look easy, and she never loses her focus on Gilda’s emotion. Her transition from spritely carefree daughter to despairing woman is affecting. And Bloomfield’s sure touch with the music and powerful emotional presence make the show sing.
The production features a 20 piece live orchestra led by Maria Sellner, an accomplished conductor of opera and orchestras based in Pittsburgh.
Artistic Director of the Hubbard Hall Opera, Alix Jones, has once again, against all odds, assembled a group of artists capable of presenting first-rate opera in an intimate setting. Kudos to her and to the little opera company that could. The last performances of this show are this weekend – 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday, August 22 and 23.[/private]