Review: Opera Saratoga opens strongly with ‘Rigoletto’

On Friday night, Opera Saratoga opened its season at the Spa Little Theatre with Verdi’s “Rigoletto.

On Friday night, Opera Saratoga opened its season at the Spa Little Theatre with Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” It was a strong production, with everything at a high level, especially the superlative singing from the large cast, which sang with a marvelously clear Italian diction — English supertitles were provided.

The opera’s opening bars, with the dark, low chords in the brass, set the stage for this very dark tale of betrayal and revenge in an Italian court notable for its dissolute lifestyle and easy virtues. The decision to update the drama from the 1850s, when the opera premiered, to modern times seemed fitting, considering the latest scandals that have emanated from Rome.

Little of Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto needed to be changed. There was always a hint of violence in the air, although Verdi’s music was surprisingly lightly orchestrated.

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For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman’s preview of this show, click here.

Chuck Hudson provided the expert direction and allowed everyone to move about the stage in a natural way.

As Rigoletto, baritone Guido LeBron is an experienced hand, as he’s often sung the role. His dark, smooth and lusciously rich voice carved out his many arias with great control. He moved about the stage with a surprising agility, considering he was a hunchback, but there was always a hint of menace.

Tenor Joshua Kohl as the amoral Duke of Mantua sang with great agility, consistency of range and a big voice, although his high notes didn’t really ring. Somehow, too, he didn’t seem as wicked as he was supposed to be.

But coloratura Marie-Eve Munger, as Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, was all sweetness and light, with a voice that soared with golden tones. Her range, which easily stretched three octaves, and her control, which allowed her to caress her very highest notes as easily as a gentle breeze, made hearing her a great pleasure for the capacity crowd. The many duets she had with either Kohl or LeBron were sensational.

Also dark and forbidding were Jeffrey Tucker as the assassin Sparafucile and Matthew Burns as the Count Monterone. The male chorus was equally great.

The set from Garett Wilson was multi-level, with many arched doorways in a palette of wines and beiges. Jay Maury used some good yellow lighting.

The orchestra under sympathetic conductor James Caraher was terrific. Hearing those brass chords in the beginning in such perfect pitch were balm to a musician’s ears.

The next performances of “Rigoletto” are at 2 p.m. Monday, 8 p.m. Friday, July 13 and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 15.

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