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‘Rigoletto’: High drama from St. Petersburg Opera Company

Bill DeYoung

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The tragic quartet (clockwise from left): Christopher Holmes (Rigoletto), Holly Flack (Gilda), Benjamin Werley (the Duke of Mantua) and Sarah Nordin (Maddalena). Photo: Jim Swallow/Packinghouse Gallery.

Love, lust, seduction. Lies, betrayal, revenge. Murder most foul. Comeuppance.

Shakespeare set ‘em up like bowling pins and had his fictional characters knock them down, one by one, over and over again. And from there to Dallas and Dynasty, from Downtown Abbey to Game of Thrones, these have always been the staples, the tried-and-trues, of dramatic plotlines through the ages (and the pages).

Giuseppe Verdi, the master of mid/late 19th Century Italian opera, also took them for his tools.

In Rigoletto, which St. Petersburg Opera Company is presenting Jan. 24, 26 and 28 at the Palladium, the libidinous and duplicitous Duke of Mantua is playing grab-ass with all the women in his court. It is 16th Century Italy.

Whenever a cuckolded husband or suitor (or an angry father) takes the Duke to task, he is berated in public by Rigoletto, the hunchbacked, tart-tongued court jester. Someone gets really, really annoyed and places a curse on the court comedian.

Rigoletto has a beautiful and virtuous daughter, whom no one knows about. When she falls in love with the Duke – who has lied to her about his true identity – Rigoletto finds himself at a moral crossroads: Where does his allegiance lie?

Rigoletto is considered one of the most significant operas in history; Verdi, who also composed Il Trovatore, Aida, La Traviata and Falstaff, wrote beautiful, haunting music that has endured and reverberated, including the well-known aria “Cara nome” (Gilda’s song of love), “La donne e mobile” (the Duke’s insanely catchy “canzone”) and the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore,” sung by Rigoletto, Gilda, the Duke and Maddalena, his latest conquest, the sister of the very man who’s been contracted to murder him.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

St. Pete Opera executive and artistic director Mark Sforzini will conduct the orchestra for the fully-staged production, which will be sung in Italian, with English translations – to add to that Dallas to Dynasty vibe – projected above the stage.

Werley, Nordin, Flack and Holmes out of costume. Photo: St. Pete Opera.

Baritone Christopher Holmes has the all-important role of Rigoletto. “When I was in my 20s, I never really conceived that a role like this, or any of the Verdi baritones, would be something I would be able to do,” he explains. “As I got a little bit older, and started working with the right people, some people started making that comment: ‘You know, you’re good enough – you ought to try it!’”

Holmes, who first sang professionally 22 years ago, spent seven years behind a desk, as executive director of Utah Lyric Opera (he is a Provo native). When he left that gig in 2017, he was ready and raring to go on significant, mature roles like Verdi’s tragic court jester.

“It had seemed really far off,” he explains. “So this is a huge shot in my arm. It feels like a graduation, actually.”

Holly Flack, who plays Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, is a coloratura soprano, meaning she’s adept at swooping vocal runs and light melodic trills in the upper register, and making them seem effortless. Flack, who appeared in SPO’s children opera Pinocchio in November, has a range that extends to B above High C – not quite breaking-windows high, but a sound that adds considerable color to the vocal spectrum.

“I’m hoping that it can be something I’m known for,” says the native of Portland, Oregon. “I’m hoping it’s a rarity. Although nobody wants to be a novelty; you want to develop the middle voice as well as keeping the top. So I want to be known for it, but to be hired for other roles as well.

“Gilda is very good for that. I don’t sing any of my high notes in this opera … although Maestro Sforzini gave me a couple for appropriate times.”

Tickets and info here.

 

 

 

 

 

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