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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Rigoletto at Piedmont Opera

    Rigoletto, opera in three acts
    Music by Giuseppe Verdi
    Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
    Premiered at Teatro La Venice, Venice, Italy, March 11, 1851
    Sung in Italian, presented by Piedmont Opera with English supertitles



    This review is of the opening night on 1023/15. Two additional performances will happen on 10/25 at 2 PM and 10/27 at 7:30 PM, at the Stevens Center of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

    See Opera Lively's coverage with three informative interviews with the artists Robert Overman, Brian Banion, and Amy Maples, by clicking [here]. These are not to be missed, since they are very interesting.

    Three additional artists are also previous Opera Lively interviewees - international star René Barbera with two interviews [here] and [here], Kristin Schwecke [here], and Donald Hartmann [here].

    Also, our announcement article referenced above (again, the link is [here]) contains several links to associated events happening in Winston-Salem around the opera.

    Tickets for the two remaining shows can be purchased by clicking [here] for 10/25 and [here] for 10/27, or calling 336-725-7101. They go from $18 to $98.

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    Artistic Staff

    The Winston-Salem Symphony conducted by James Allbritten
    The Piedmont Opera Chorus
    Stage Director Steven LaCosse
    Choreographer Elizabeth Fowle
    Scenic Designer David P. Gordon for the Sarasota Opera, coordinated by KC Kelley
    Lighting Designer Norman Coates
    Wig and Make-up Designer Martha Ruskai
    Costumes by Malabar Limited, Toronto
    Props Kristina Stevenson

    -------------------

    The Cast

    Principal Singers

    Title role, Rigoletto, the court jester - Opera Lively interviewee baritone Robert Overman
    The Duke of Mantua - Opera Lively interviewee tenor René Barbera
    Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter - Opera Lively interviewee soprano Amy Maples

    Important additional roles

    Sparafucile, an assassin - Opera Lively interviewee bass-baritone Brian Banion (role written for bass)
    Maddalena, Sparafucile's sister - Opera Lively interviewee soprano Kristin Schwecke (role written for contralto)
    Count Monterone - Opera Lively interviewee bass-baritone Donald Hartmann (role written for baritone)
    Count Ceprano - baritone Josh Conyers (role written for bass)
    Marullo, a courtier - baritone Cody Montá

    Smaller comprimario roles

    Countess Ceprano - Opera Lively interviewee soprano Kristin Schwecke (role written for mezzo)
    Borsa, a courtier - tenor Simon Petersson
    Giovanna, Gilda's duenna - mezzo Jaclyn Surso
    A Page - contralto Lindsay Mecher (role written for mezzo)
    A Bailiff - bass Patrick Scully

    -----------------

    How refreshing! In today's operatic environment, it is not every day that we see a traditional, non-updated staging of one of the major works in the repertory done in highly entertaining manner with pizzazz and verve and sublime singing across the board, down to the smallest comprimario roles.

    This Rigoletto by Piedmont Opera is an astounding triumph, and gets its well-deserved spot in the Hall of Fame of the best operatic productions in our state in the last several years, together with other gems such as their own Flying Dutchman, NC Opera's Rusalka, Greensboro Opera's The Daughter of the Regiment, and Opera Carolina's The Pearl Fishers. We the North Carolina opera lovers have been blessed with some world-class productions lately, and while naturally not all of what we see in our regional companies attains this level of excellence, trust me, dear reader: this time, we got just that: vocal and instrumental performances that did justice to this essential piece and wouldn't be ashamed in the most prestigious national and international stages.

    I am very familiar with maestro Allbritten's elegant conducting. For example, in a recent La Rondine, he had the lightness of touch necessary to interpret this quasi-operetta. I was curious to see how he'd fare with the density of this Verdian score, and sure enough, he did just as well. The orchestra hummed beautifully with low dynamics in spots like the gorgeous "Bella Figlia dell'Amore" quartet (Verdi used the four voices as his "orchestration" therefore the piece needs to be interpreted almost in "a capella" manner, with the orchestra just whispering along), and responded in force for the louder dramatic scenes. Beautifully done, maestro! We grant to James Allbritten and the excellent Winston-Salem Symphony an A++ score.

    Singing was out of this world. It is a pity that company officials told me that in spite of the very well-attended opening night, there's been some trouble selling tickets for the Sunday matinée and the Tuesday last show.

    Winston-Salem community, wake up! This was easily the best singing I've ever heard on the Piedmont Opera stage (not a small accomplishment since the company is consistently good in their casting)!

    I'm afraid of appearing to be partial to Piedmont Opera given my confessed fondness for this group of talented, passionate and personable artists and administrators who lead the company - but believe me, it's absolutely true.

    Of course, we've heard this opera countless times with some of the greatest artists on Earth, from contemporary singers such as Piotr Beczala and Diana Damrau, all the way up to the legendary Luciano Pavarotti as the Duke and Joan Sutherland as Gilda. Recently we attended at the Met a live performance featuring the excellent Željko Lučić, lovely Opera Lively interviewee Lisette Oropesa, and rising star Vittorio Grigolo. Guess what? This show at Piedmont Opera was just as good, if not better in parts. Truly.

    Bob Overman at age 62 and after an impressive career in Germany and elsewhere, is semi-retired from the stage. He teaches voice at a local university and appears rarely as a singer, preferring to enjoy a quiet life with his sweet wife and two daughters. Good for him, but we opera lovers regret that he chooses to appear so infrequently: the man has incredible voice longevity and remains just as good a Verdi baritone as his best younger counterparts! Bob took on this iconic character - his favorite - with gravitas, great acting, and a secure voice with healthy vibrato, navigating easily the entire range of the role in flawless manner. I don't think his performance leaves anything to be desired when compared to pretty much any other interpreter of the role. For example, again, we liked his Rigoletto better than the also very good Željko Lučić's at the Met. A++, no doubt.

    René Barbera, one of the best lyric tenors in activity in the entire world who has been a regular in the most prestigious European and American houses (it is not for nothing that he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and was the first singer ever to win the triple crown at Plácido Domingo's Operalia - the grand prize, the audience prize, and the Zarzuela prize), is just extraordinary. This is the third time I listen to him live on stage, and I'm surprised to acknowledge that he seems to be improving even more, when in previous shows I had already thought that he was so good that there was almost no room for additional evolution. There is rarely anything more thrilling in opera than a great tenor with fabulous projection and absolutely beautiful timbre and musicality, interpreting a Verdi piece a few yards from our excellent seats in the front center orchestra floor - and his role include spectacular arias such as "Questa o Quella," and "La Donna è Mobile," which he executed with absolute perfection. It was goosebumping. A++. This performance alone amply justifies the purchase of tickets for the last two remaining shows. I almost want to go back and listen to him again. Winston-Salem patrons don't know what they'll be missing if they don't gobble up every single available ticket.

    The young soprano Amy Maples did a remarkable role debut as Gilda. She was delicate and poignant, and her first ever "Caro Nome" in a fully staged professional production was a thing of beauty, with very good control, accurate notes, and good agility in her coloratura. She is a young artist to be watched, especially given that she prepared for her first Gilda at relatively short notice, since she was busy with... getting married! A+

    What Kristin Schwecke did was truly surprising. Those who are unfamiliar with the nuances of the operatic voices will listen to her performance and find it justifiably very beautiful, but they won't know that she was out of her fach. Ms. Schwecke whose career we've been following since she was a student at the UNCSA, is a dramatic soprano. Well, her two roles were written for a mezzo, and for... a contralto! The latter sits much lower than what she is most comfortable doing. In the after-party she disclosed that when the maestro invited her to sing Maddalena, she needed some ten days to have the courage to say yes. Well, she passed with flying colors. She was able to do the low notes with no problem whatsoever, not losing any volume, including in the famous quartet when her colleagues are singing loudly much higher-pitched lines on top of her voice. Bravo! A++ as well! And her acting is good too!

    It is a luxury to have Brian Banon in the relatively smaller role of Sparafucile. He was great - dark, sinister, full-voiced - very impressive all the way! His flawless singing gets the fourth A++ of this incredible cast.

    All three intermediate-sized roles of Count Monterone, Count Ceprano, and Marullo were very well staffed. We know Donald Hartmann very well from various other roles and he was as good as ever. The company tapped the voice programs at UNCSA for Cody Montá and Josh Conyers, and they are both very promising young artists. The remaining comprimario roles were also successfully held by other young students, and the entire comprimario cast gets a collective A+ given that not a single one showed any shortcoming. This is arguably the most homogenously excellent cast I've heard in many years, anywhere.

    With virtually no singer among all twelve scoring any less than A+ and four singers reaching A++, this was the best collective singing in recent memory in the state of North Carolina. Given that the orchestra and conducting also earned the maximum score, we got a musically A++ overall show, which matches the musically gorgeous Rusalka at NC Opera as the two best musical performances in North Carolina operatic stages and pits over the last several years.

    Stage direction is always guaranteed to be good when Steven LaCosse is doing it. Sometimes the company gets guest directors. Steven has told me that he doesn't want to do it every production, so that the public is exposed to different styles from time to time. Well, I always crave his shows because I believe that they are better than the ones that don't have him. His productions are always lively, with precise blocking, good use of stage space, and creative solutions for the scenes, keeping theatrical pace moving along and introducing a lot of entertaining details for the public. We got the same assets yesterday. A++.

    Acting in general was less strong than singing. There were exceptions (Bob Overman and Brian Banion were great, and Kristin is also a talented actress) but it wasn't as homogeneously good as singing was, with some of the young artists having room for improvement as their careers progress. B+

    Lighting was a bit less good. I'd probably do the kidnapping scene with darker lights for a more sinister atmosphere. The storm was less than convincing. B+.

    Costumes rented from Toronto were very elaborate and rich for this traditional staging. A+.

    Scenery was also quite good, from Sarasota Opera. It was fairly realistic for the various scenes. Some of the paintings could have been a bit better but in general the physical production was beautiful. It gets the A grade. This picture taken during the curtain calls gives a partial idea of the costumes, and also shows the scenery for Sparafucile's lair - there was more visual impact from the sets for the other scenes but I did not take pictures of those.

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    Part of the curtain calls, Piedomont Opera's Rigoletto, photo credit Opera Lively

    After the show, we met the artists for the champagne-desert after-party, and enjoyed maestro Allbritten's funny presentation. As usual, he could easily double as a stand-up comedian, with his hilarious speeches. We had the pleasure of meeting René Barbera's very charming wife Anna and Bob Overman's entire family, in addition to chatting with all singers and with Steven LaCosse. The pleasant interactions with board members, staff, and patrons during the pre-opera buffet dinner only adds to the attraction of Piedmont Opera's opening nights, which are easily by now our most cherished operatic events in the North Carolina calendar. We regret that we'll miss the next one - a musical this time, Sondheim's A Little Night Music, opening on March 18, 2016 - given that we'll be abroad. With the consistent high quality of Piedmont Opera productions and their experience doing musicals (South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza were recent successful ones), surely the Triad and Triangle patrons will enjoy this musical just as much as the operas.

    Again, dear readers, don't miss this Rigoletto - it is a world-class production.

    ---------------

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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 24th, 2015 at 04:50 PM.
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