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MOT kills with ‘Rigoletto’

By |2018-01-15T23:07:24-05:00May 19th, 2011|Entertainment|

James Valenti in “Rigoletto.” Photo: John Grigaitis

I have to come clean about something: It’s been so many years since my last visit to the Michigan Opera Theatre that I have no clear memory of which opera I attended or how many years ago it was. It’s not that I have anything against the genre; but for years we were not reviewing most MOT productions because of their short runs – and as such, I was generally elsewhere, sitting in another theater on their opening nights. And when we revised our policy to take advantage of the immediacy of the internet, other critics on our team jumped at the chance to participate in MOT’s opening night festivities.
And now I remember why.
As a first-time attendee standing near me during the first intermission of MOT’s “Rigoletto” remarked on opening night, “I didn’t expect it to be so lush.” And then she inquired about the cost of season tickets. There’s no higher praise than that!
And justifiably so, since MOT’s revival of “Rigoletto” is indeed a lush mixture of excellent voices, imaginative staging, superb design work and fine musical accompaniment.
Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” first performed in Venice in 1851, tells the story of a hunchbacked court jester who has offended way too many people while performing his official duties – and in particular, the husbands of the women his randy boss, the Duke of Mantua, has pursued. When rumors circulate that Rigoletto has a mistress, the noblemen decide to teach the buffoon a lesson. So they kidnap her – with Rigoletto’s assistance, thanks to a trick they play on him – and hide her in the Duke’s bedchamber. What the kidnappers don’t know, however, is this: Gilda isn’t Rigoletto’s mistress; she’s his beloved daughter – and she’s secretly in love with the Duke. (The two met shortly before her kidnapping, and he too professed his love for her.) So when the Duke learns of the incident, he eagerly rushes to her side – which, thanks to the Duke’s reputation with the ladies, infuriates Rigoletto. So he approaches a local assassin with a job offer that’s not very funny: Kill the Duke!
Sung in Italian with English supertitles displayed above the stage, Bernard Uzan’s “Rigoletto” holds your attention from start to finish – so much so, that at times you may forget to follow the supertitles since the storytelling keeps you so focused on the action. (He’s also choreographed the quietest scene changes this season – not an easy task, given the size and complexity of the task!)
But what really tells – and sells – the story are the passionate performances of Todd Thomas (Rigoletto), Rachele Gilmore (Gilda), James Valenti (Duke of Mantua) and Alain Coulombe (Sparafucile). And in a story that features characters who are – for the most part – ethically challenged, that’s not easy to do!
The beautiful Gilmore, a coloratura soprano, sparkles throughout the show. Sweet and innocent, her first-act “Caro nome” is an artistic high point (both literally and figuratively) that earned thunderous applause on opening night.
Valenti, a rising star in the international world of opera, is noted for his sex appeal – and he displays all that (and some skin) in the role of the womanizing and self-centered Duke. His shining moment is the opera’s most famous song, “La donna e mobile.” (If you arrive for the show an hour early, attend the free “opera talk” during which you’ll learn the fascinating history of this song – among many other things.)
Coulombe’s assassin, Sparafucile, is darkly evil – and his voice, a bass, serves the character well.
The standout, however, is Thomas. Rigoletto’s pain and suffering is palpable from start to finish – and Thomas, a baritone, explores the depths to which his character falls with great skill. Sure, murder might not be the BEST answer to Rigoletto’s dilemma, but Thomas makes sure his love for his daughter always shines through – which serves to underscore the complexity of his troubled character.
All of the supporting roles add color and texture to the production.
Also top notch are the show’s technical elements. Allen Charles Klein’s set is spectacular, and it’s lit well by Donald Thomas. (The thunderstorm is especially well executed.) And the costumes supplied by Malabar Limited in Toronto couldn’t be better.
Conductor Steven Mercurio and the MOT Orchestra produce a rich, full-bodied sound that belies the size of their team. And Mercurio earned a few laughs of his own at the start of the second act by interacting with a slow-moving patron heading toward his seat in the first row. It was priceless!
And so too is the Michigan Opera Theatre. Now concluding its 40th season, MOT is one of Detroit’s cultural gems. If you’ve never been, now is the time to plan a visit; there’s a ticket price for every pocketbook!

REVIEW:
‘Rigoletto’
Michigan Opera Theatre at Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. May 18, 20-22. $29-$121. 313-237-SING. http://www.michiganopera.org

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