By Nino Pantano
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Saturday, May 24, we attended Giuseppe Verdi’s great opera “Rigoletto” at Our Lady of Perpetual Help auditorium on 59th St. and 6th Ave., in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn.
This opera tells the story of Rigoletto, a court jester, who seeks revenge against the Duke who seduced his daughter, Gilda. However, Rigoletto has been cursed and his plan for revenge is foiled.
Jungbae Ju, who possesses a beautiful baritone with vibrant tone, sang the title role. His voice projected well and conjured up surprising power. Ju sang a pensive “Quel vecchio maledivami” followed by a riveting “Pari siamo.” His duets with Gilda were sung softly and with great tenderness, but his “maledizione” rang out. In the second act, Rigoletto’s “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” was sung with power, pathos and passion, with a beautifully held “Pieta” at the end. Ju sang lyrically with restraint but, seemingly from nowhere, out poured this tremendous golden burst of emotion and power that soared and thrilled. The vengeance (Si, Vendetta) duet that concluded the act is an example. At the finale, Ju sang with terrifying conviction as he caressed the dead Gilda as Monterone’s curse is fulfilled and the Duke lived on.
Gilda was portrayed by Maryam Amatullah-Wali, who possesses an exceptional coloratura soprano with agility and grace, which also has surges of “thrust” that can surprise and delight. After her rapturous love duet with the Duke, she sang “Caro nome.” with exquisite coloratura, thrills galore, and received an ovation. In the vengeance duet she sang an exhilarating high note; then waited for Rigoletto to match her defiance with fury. The house echoed with deafening applause. Her optional high note before her stabbing at the inn was like the golden days at the old Met! Her floating tones at the finale were truly heavenly!
The Duke of Mantua was Ubaldo Feliciano-Hernandez who regrettably was under the weather and had vocal difficulties. His voice wavered on the high note in “Questa o quella” and when he sung “Ella mi fu rapita,” the high notes were transposed down. The ever popular “La donna e mobile” had no high note at the end. Perhaps the role of the Duke is simply not for him.
Jonathan Dauermann was a slinky sinister Sparafucile with some nice subterranean notes. His resonant basso and tall lean looks were perfect. I liked when the Duke asked for “Some wine - and your sister!” Hannah Kramer played Maddalena to the hilt, her rich mezzo soprano at once so provocative and beguiling. The Duke’s attempt to seduce her and his efforts in removing her black lace stockings were a bit too much for some! The famed Quartet was nicely done.
Daniel Kerr was the noteworthy courtier Borsa; Charles Gray’s haunting basso made for an eerie Monterone, Nicholas Connolly bowed and scraped with aplomb as the cuckolded Count Ceprano, Andre Lamar Smith shone as Marullo, a courtier; Lisa Bryce was a pleasant voiced and conniving Giovanna (Gilda’s companion) Alexis Thomason was a fresh voiced page and basso, Jacopo Buora did well as an usher.
The colorful ensemble complete with red clad Harem girls added a bit of spice to the occasion.
The remarkable 35 member orchestra was in the felicitous hands of Maestro Gregory Ortega. The storm scene on stage was even more effective since it was also storming outside the theatre as Maestro Ortega whipped the orchestra up to a fast and furious frenzy.
Linda Lehr’s stage directing left us with many striking scenes – I loved when the courtiers all bowed in what looked like mock deference to the Duke, as Rigoletto in pursuit, mentioned his name. The chorus sang lustily and elegantly. The excellent super titles by Linda Cantoni were clear and informative. The costumes by Julia Cornely were vivid. The sets by Tyler Learned were surprisingly simple, useful and effective - good for the singers but dullish for the audience.
Some “feedback” found Maddalena’s seduction scene too graphic (for children in the audience) and most were concerned about the tenor; but some (new to opera perhaps) seemed not to notice.
Most importantly, the standing ovations and cheers for the singers and the production overall meant another rousing evening of great opera as Regina Opera enters its 45th season.