Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Rigoletto

The Friday night audience for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's production of Rigoletto was a buzz with glowing reports about the incredible performance of Mary Dunleavy as Gilda, the tragic daughter of the court jester Rigoletto. Dunleavy's, according to the Kansas City Star review, "rippling arias seem to flow so effortlessly, [and]sends the theatergoer home with indelible images—and sounds—in his head." Those who had attended earlier performances of the opera echoed the praise with shouts of "magnificent!" "Best I have ever heard" and "wonderful".

But, unfortunately I did not get to hear that on Saturday. A serious respiratory infection claimed Ms Dunleavy's voice and she was forced to withdraw.

Luckily, a wonderful Gilda was available in the form of Angela Gilbert, a South African native who has performed internationally and knew the role.

Gilbert was sensational, and those who were able to compare felt she was at least an equal to Dunleavy in her passionate, solid performance. Surely one could not tell she had arrived that afternoon in KC, spent a few hours rehearsing the staging and resting a bit before hitting the stage. She and Richard Fink (Rigoletto) and David Pomeroy (Duke of Mantua) acted and sang as if they had been together for weeks. Fink's declaration of vengeance "Si Vendetta" was as chilling and foreboding as I have ever heard it. Pomeroy with his rich tenor and excellent diction laughed and pranced through the famous "La Donna é mobile" with swagger and just that touch of evil that makes this aria more than just a trifle.

This was a fine, traditional retelling of the Victor Hugo tale as adapted by Verdi. Although the plot is as convoluted and absurd as any bel canto opera (you know.. secret affairs, doomed lives, palace intrigue, revenge and murder), Verdi's dramatically lyrical writing transcends the obvious problems and delivers a masterpiece. The sets, dark and foreboding yet never heavy handed, contributed to the air of impending tragedy. Ward Holmquist and the orchestra handled the orchestral parts with aplomb and forward tempo, never rushed but allowing Verdi's rich score to sing when needed.

While I would have loved to have heard Dunleavy's acclaimed Gilda, I certainly did not feel cheated with this performance. One of the most overall satisfying I have heard here in several strong seasons.

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