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Sopranos Soar

Rigoletto, presented by Opera Santa Barbara. At the Lobero
Theatre, Saturday, February 24.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Rigoleto.jpgS.B. Opera’s Verdi Festival got off to a
spectacular start on Saturday with a splendid performance of
Rigoletto directed by the distinguished soprano Stephanie
Sundine. It was, among other things, a great night for the
sopranos, as both Hanan Alattar as Gilda and Tihana Herceg as
Maddalena delivered stellar performances. The opera is constructed
so as to allow Maddalena a chance to upstage the fair Gilda, but
seldom do the mezzo-sopranos cast in the role rise to the occasion
as beautifully and as powerfully as Herceg did on Saturday.
Rigoletto has to be one of the most successful of all
operas at realizing the kind of fundamental tensions that make the
medium so great. To see Rigoletto in his harlequin suit clutching
his jester’s staff while singing his heart out in duet with his
beloved daughter, who is herself decked out in symbolic white, is
to approach the archetypal source of pleasure peculiar to this form
of music. Alattar united first with Michael Corvino as Rigoletto,
then with Harold Gray Meers as the Duke of Mantua, in a pair of
duets of aching beauty and profound resonance.

Craig Hart made a powerful and frightening Sparafucile, the
assassin. Sundine did especially well with the chorus, who were the
source of several of the evening’s highlights, including a very
memorable conclusion to Act 1, Scene 1 in which Monterone curses
Rigoletto. Despite the rather dour theme, which is the comeuppance
of a mean-spirited jester, Rigoletto delivers the
requisite moments of passion and excitement that make Verdi’s work
so special. When Gilda is forced to witness the duke’s betrayal of
her love with the assassin’s accomplice Maddalena, the tension is
almost unbearable. When her response — to offer her own life in
sacrifice for her lover’s so that he may achieve happiness with
Maddalena — becomes known, the beauty of her voice becomes an
allegory for the purity of her intent. While this turn of events
might not pass muster in drama, it suits the high-flying and
passionate nature of operatic action, and the result is a finale
that is as exciting to watch as any trick of suspense or more
conventional reversal of fortune.

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