Stage: Wednesday, September 17, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
The Rig

Fort Worth Opera opens its season with a moving production of a Verdi classic.

By LEONARD EUREKA

Years ago, the Fort Worth Opera was an important regional company, a sort of New York City Opera outpost that complemented the internationally renowned Dallas Opera. Things eventually slid downhill, and the company lost its way. With Darren Woods’ second season as general director under way, it doesn’t seem farfetched to ask if those days might be coming back. Certainly the company’s season opening production, of Verdi’s Rigoletto, was a step in the right direction. It’s been many a moon since such a large gathering of first-rate young singers has been heard here. And the show looked as good as it sounded.

Stephen Kechulius headed the cast, singing the title role of the ill-fated hunch-back; his baritone was bright and fresh, and he delved into a number of vocal subtleties in the role. The top of his voice, unforced and open, allowed for a wonderful outpouring of sound. Kechulius couldn’t find the biting edge of the opening scenes, which show us why everyone wants to pull Rigoletto down, nor did he even limp consistently. But the feeling was inescapable that a great Rigoletto was just down the road. He had the vulnerability and loneliness of the unlucky jester; he needed only the strong cynical façade to complete the package.

Soprano Indira Mahajan (who will sing Musetta in the Dallas Opera’s La Boheme later in the season) sang his daughter Gilda in a pleasing, light voice that appeared strong enough to hold its own in ensembles. She seemed more comfortable in dramatic situations than in those parts written in coloratura, leaving out some of the vocal decorations in the “Caro Nome” aria and coming to grief on the high trill at the end. But her intimate moments with Rigoletto were moving, and the death scene was ravishing.

The carefree duke, as portrayed by tenor Andrew Richards, had a youthful innocence about him that robbed his constant philandering of any malice (but not of its self-indulgence). His robust voice rang true, from top to bottom, although he sounded pushed at times and may have been tired.

All three were making their Fort Worth Opera debuts and look like welcome additions to the roster. So does the hulking bass David Bedard (the hired assassin Sparafucile), who, in a generously filled 6´5´´ frame, looked menacing — until he began singing. Robynne Redmon was the Maddalena, and Matthew Arnold sang Monterone. Both added strength and depth to the performance.

The only real weakness was Stephanie Sundine’s staging. She hasn’t figured out what to do with a chorus yet — her solution was to leave it in chunks here and there, as if this were Gilbert and Sullivan, or to string it out in a line. The opening festivities in the Duke’s palace, particularly, looked stilted, for all the running around. No court protocol was hinted at, no one curtsied or bowed, and everyone looked and acted about the same. With the folk elements he chose, John de los Santos’ choreography seemed more appropriate to a country fair than a ducal court.

The Seattle Opera scenery was handsome. There was spontaneous applause when the curtain went up on the Duke’s great Renaissance hall, with its crimson draperies and painted fresco walls. A massive faux marble statue of the Rape of Somebody or Other, with strategically placed draperies, loomed over everything, stage left. Peter J. Hall’s luxurious costumes from the Dallas Opera production fit in nicely. However, two things didn’t come with the production — an appropriately sized table and chair for the Duke, and later Rigoletto, to use in the second act. Surely somebody in Fort Worth could have found something better than the spindly little table and constipated French chair that were used, something that wouldn’t offend our sensibilities.

While the chorus may have looked anemic much of the time, it sounded healthy and well-rehearsed, as did the orchestra. Joseph Illick is music director now, and the pit musicians have taken notice. The woodwinds, especially, relaxed into some sensitive phrasings and tonal colors, and the strings were not far behind. After a couple of hesitant trumpet entrances, the brasses also settled into a solid sound.

Next up for the company is Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw, in November, a rare excursion here into the 20th century.


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