After a hugely successful initial performance and an even more polished second performance of their first opera of the season, “Lucrezia Borgia”, Caramoor had big shoes to fill with their second and final opera of the 2014 Summer Festival season, “Rigoletto”. While the bar was set high, “Rigoletto” had trouble measuring up in a few places, leaving Verdi’s highly sentimental tragedy of paternal love with a few holes.
The second of what Caramoor’s director of opera, Will Crutchfield, has called the “Victor Hugo operas” because of their textual inspirations, both stories surround parental love and it’s damning or redeeming nature. In “Rigoletto”, the titular jester struggles with revenge after the Duke of Mantua seduces his innocent daughter, believing all the misfortune to have been caused by a curse.
That jester was played in top form by Stephen Powell. The American baritone inhabited the stage from the second he entered. His vocally secure, linguistically confident interpretation makes it clear why Rigoletto has become such a calling card role for him. His authoritative voice was able to make the quicksilver changes from fuming anger to depression to bloodthirsty revenge and it was embodied in both his expressive voice and physicality. While his dramatic interpretation tended towards depression or nervousness, he still created a full character in a setting where staging was limited.
As the Duke of Mantua, John Osborn was unremarkable. His voice isn’t beautiful or distinctive enough in the center range. One of his characteristic skills is his ability to reach stratospherically high notes, which is impressive. However, the voice gets thinner and more strained the higher you go. Unable to be truly distinctive, the crowd-pleasing high notes and a pretty rousing ‘La Donna è Mobile’ were enough to win over the Venetian Theatre’s audience.
As Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, Georgia Jarman has a lot to offer. She has a well-sized, seductive and expressive voice, coupled with a full range of physical gestures that helped her develop her characterization. However, she was inconsistent at establishing a basic legato line and mushy diction obscured much of Francesco Maria Piave’s so well-constructed text. Her ‘Caro Nome’ was impressive, if not in a “check all the boxes” sort of way, with nicely executed trills, some reedy high(but not too high) notes, topped with a pleasant and creative, if not very risky, cadenza.
Jeffrey Beruan, a singer who was fantastic when he was last at Caramoor in “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” two years ago, sang an authoritative Sparafucile with a very attractive voice. As his sister, Maddalena, Nicole Piccolomini’s distinctive, slightly acidic mezzo begs to be heard in bigger parts that would allow her to develop her vocal line establishment, in addition to showcasing her crystalline diction. She was definitely the standout voice during the third act’s quartet.
As for the smaller roles, Hsin-Mei Tracy Chang was a sweet-voiced Countess Ceprano, Zachary Altman was a stern but good-natured Marullo, and Yunnie Park had trouble making herself heard over the orchestra as Giovanna.
It took Will Crutchfield and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s a while to settle into their groove, with some incoherent orchestral coloring towards the beginning, but the problem was soon fixed and the orchestra played beautifully for the rest of the evening, shining especially bright curing the storm scene in the final act. Special props to bassist John Feeney, who played through all of Verdi’s difficult bass music with vigor and aplomb. The Caramoor Festival Chorus was, once again, in top form.
This season at Caramoor was a true treat for opera fans. Next year’s operas promise to be just at stimulating, with Rossini’s Otello (July 11, 2015) starring Michael Spyres of “Ciro in Babilonia” fame, as well as “The Dialogues of the Carmelites”(July 25, 2015), with Ewa Podles as the Old Prioress. With fond memories of this year’s summer opera season behind us, I can guarantee that it will be worth the wait.
The Caramoor festival continues through August 3rd with performances of jazz, classical, and roots music on Thursday through Sunday nights. The grounds are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 3 and the grounds pass is free with a ticket for an upcoming Caramoor performance.
Photo: Rich Higgins