Opera in the Heights delivers effective “Rigoletto”

By Steven Brown

September 29, 2014

Baritone Octavio Moreno captured the fury of the title role and soprano Erin Kenneavy’s voice came into its own as the music grew dramatic in Opera in the Heights’ production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

“Rigoletto,” Giuseppe Verdi’s story of a court jester and his skirt-chasing master, opens with a rowdy palace party. Yet only a handful of revelers can fit on Lambert Hall’s little stage.

So much for grand opera.

The same scene, however, illustrates the converted church’s strength. When Rigoletto spots a target for his acid tongue, the glint in baritone Octavio Moreno’s eye conveys the jester’s excitement before his wisecrack emerges, a detail that might go to waste in a larger theater.

Those touches help give Opera in the Heights’ “Rigoletto” impact.

Violently split

Verdi’s drama depicts the tragedy that befalls a man violently split between his outer and inner personas. The courtiers around Rigoletto see him only as a hunchbacked dispenser of insults. At home, though, he is the loving father of Gilda, able to take refuge from the hardships life has dealt him.

But when Rigoletto’s master seduces his daughter, the jester’s scheme for revenge veers beyond his control.

The music’s explosiveness and lyricism makes the role a popular one for baritones. At Friday’s opening, Moreno captured Rigoletto’s fury by singing with vitality and fullness rather than raw power. During Rigoletto’s scenes with Gilda, Moreno infused the melodies with breadth and warmth that exuded fatherly affection. Because Moreno’s voice sounded round and resonant – rather than thunderously forceful – nearly all the time, it helped unite the disparate sides of Rigoletto’s personality.

Soprano Erin Kenneavy, as Gilda, and tenor Dane Suarez, as her seducer the Duke of Mantua, handled the music less assuredly. Kenneavy’s voice sounded dry in the lyrical moments but came into its own as the music grew dramatic, ringing with fervor as Gilda’s courage emerged. Though Suarez delivered the gentlest part of the love duet tenderly, he emphasized the swagger of the Duke’s famous arias, where his singing was lusty but sometimes labored.

Bass Nathan Stark cut a chilling figure as the assassin Sparafucile, not only because of his voice’s ominous black sound, but also because of the cold-bloodedness conveyed in his face: the pride as he discussed his skill with a knife, the fake courtliness as he greeted a victim, and the stoniness as he demanded payment.

Mezzo-soprano Alissa Anderson brought an earthy voice and bearing to Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister and accomplice. Bass-baritone Kyle Albertson sang sonorously as the nobleman Monterone, who issues a curse that terrorizes Rigoletto. Playing Marullo, a courtier who relishes taunting Rigoletto, baritone Jared Guest’s robust voice made him a worthy foil to Moreno.

Heightened vigor

The orchestra, led by Enrique Carréon-Robledo, played raggedly at times, but when it pulled together, it heightened the work’s vigor. Director Susan Stone Li squeezed the action into the small space by taking advantage of the whole theater, sometimes having performers enter from the lobby.

The bare-bones set, designed by Striker Services, established only the basics of the locales. But when the performers brought the music to life, “Rigoletto” had all that it needed.

‘Rigoletto’

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