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Photograph by Pat Kirk
TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY: Rigoletto (Andrew Fernando) and Gilda (Rochelle Bard) learn some hard truths in 'Rigoletto.'

Opera-Lover's Dream

Opera San José's 'Rigoletto' delivers both musical and theatrical highs

By Scott MacClelland

BAY AREA composer Kirke Mechem once noted that musical theater is for people who love theater and like music, and opera is for people who like theater and love music. Verdi's Rigoletto is, therefore, an opera-lover's dream; if its theater isn't top-drawer, its music certainly is. In fact, Verdi's operatic setting of Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse is so packed with hummable tunes as to seem almost a cliché. (There's even a fragment of melody in a first-act scene that he later expanded into the dominant theme in La traviata.)

Most famous of the big tunes is the libidinous Duke of Mantua's third-act dissing of women, La donna è mobile. But the selfsame duke also gets the memorable Questa o quella in Act 1, and Parmi veder le lagrime in Act 2. The tragic title character, the humpback jester at the duke's court, chews scenery in all three acts and gets the remarkable Cortigiani, vil razza dannata, in which he first denounces the duke's courtiers—"vile, accursed race"—for abducting his daughter, Gilda, then falls to his knees in abject humility, begging their forgiveness and pity.

You get all this and more in Opera San José's new production. With period costumes and a serviceable set enhanced by adroit lighting, stage director Lorna Haywood shrewdly deploys her cast of characters and choristers to fine theatrical effect. Those members of the resident company—professional singers who are gaining stage experience—have seasoned up nicely. Isaac Hurtado (the duke), in his first appearance, in Opera San José's Roméo et Juliette, was wooden and generated no chemistry. His acting at the outset of Rigoletto, the opening performance by one of two casts, was still stiff, but he physically warmed up over the span of the afternoon—likewise, his singing, so that by the last act he became the animal Verdi had imagined. (Well, almost.)

Carlos Aguilar (Sparafucile, the assassin) has gained even more stage authority to match his splendidly resonant and commanding basso. Rochelle Bard (Gilda) developed her character from extreme naiveté to sacrificial lover narrowly, but her stage presence and vocal production made up for it. With more dramatic vocal potential than this light role asks for, Bard's Caro nome—yet another tuneful haunt—added extra heft to her assured coloratura, and she blended nicely in the last act quartet, Bella figlia dell'amore.

Making his company debut in the title role, Andrew Fernando gave a powerful performance, physically stooped and dragging, intensely driven and deeply suffering. The Philippines native obviously knew this role well and has scored an impression résumé with opera companies in Asia and California. His dynamic range was well and expressively displayed in solos and ensembles despite an occasional rough sound. Also worth noting were Silas Elash as the hapless Monterone who pronounces the prophetic curse, and Kathleen Moss as a lusty and vivid Maddalena. The orchestra, under David Rohrbaugh's deft hands, kept the action in motion and made sparkling work of Verdi's challenging balances and tricky syncopations.

RIGOLETTO, an Opera San José production, plays Feb. 15, 21 and 23 at 8pm and Feb. 17 and 24 at 3pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $66–$88. (408.437.4450)

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