Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
William Davenport sings well as The Duke of Mantua, and this is a tenor showcase part: an opening aria, a double aria in act two, and the aforementioned tenor showpiece. The part doesn't take him into the stratospheric top, but is focused fairly high. There are opportunities for added top notes in cadenzas, but Davenport doesn't tread there. Rigoletto, his hunchbacked court jester, is one of Verdi's greatest baritone roles, ideally sung by a singer with bite in his voice. Marco Nisticò doesn't seem to have the wanted darkness ideal for this role, still, he offers a finely sung performance. The third principal role is Rigoletto's daughter Gilda, wooed and seduced by the duke, beautifully sung by Hanna Brammer. Young Bok Kim as Sparafucile represents the most dramatic presence at the performance I attended, while Annie Chester is Maddalena, his sister. Various courtiers are sung by Studio and Apprentice artists with poise.
Opera singers are not usually known for superior acting skills and this cast lives up to that lack of expectation. I don't blame stage director Stephanie Sundine; the action is clearly blocked so that audiences can follow a complicated plotline. The fine libretto by Francesco Maria Piave is one of Verdi's best, but dramatic specificity is lacking on stage. Where is the caustic relationship between Rigoletto and the courtiers visible? When Gilda is abducted from her father's home (and it may have been a stage dummy in place of our prima donna), where is any flailing of arms and/or legs to let the audience feel the shock of the action? Rigoletto is potentially a dramatically exciting opera with a plot that needs few allowances.
Maestro Victor DeRenzi, leading the Sarasota Orchestra is usually able to whip up an exciting performance and Verdi is his passion, but things in the first two acts are a little unexciting. I got a sense of what to expect when the opening bars of the prelude, when music of the curse placed on Rigoletto in act one, scene one did not ring out powerfully. Still, DeRenzi knows his way around Verdi's music far better than almost anyone else conducting today and the performance is solidly led.
Perhaps my perspective is a little harsher than many who might be experiencing Rigoletto for the first time or after a very long absence. For most audiences, this is a quite decent chance to hear the opera, one of Verdi's middle period masterpieces. Right after this one came two of his other greatest operas, Il Trovatore and La Traviata.
Rigoletto runs through November 17, 2019, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information call 941-366-8450 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.
Cast: The Duke of Mantua: William Davenport