By Lawrence Budmen

Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic masterpiece Rigoletto fuses Victor Hugo’s tale of corruption, unrequited love, and vengeance with an endless array of inspired melodies and tightly woven musico-dramatic structure. Florida Grand Opera’s production features a cast that mostly does justice to Verdi’s music.

Director Mark Lamos and set and costume designer Michael Yeargan favor a traditional approach filtered through a modern theatrical sensibility. Lamos paces the action swiftly with a series of striking tableaux. Yeargan’s spare, angular sets and commedia costumes suggest a society unhinged. Mark McCullough’s nightmarish lightening enhances the opera’s inexorable march to tragedy.

Leah Partridge is a world class Gilda, a gifted soprano headed towards stardom. Not a mere soubrette, she brings a large and multi-colored lyric-coloratura soprano voice to the role of Rigoletto’s daughter. Her high flying coloratura roulades and trills are stunning and precise. A vivid stage presence, Partridge presents an intense portrait of youthful, awakening love. In the final act, she turns grandly tragic with a rapturously lyrical death scene. 

Stefano Secco revealed a fine lyric tenor as the Duke of Mantua. His compact, well produced voice sometimes succumbed to pressure on high notes. La Donna Mobile was edgy. In his duet with Partridge and the great quartet, Secco’s dulcet soft tones had real Italianate beauty and fervor.

As the hunchback Rigoletto Bruno Caproni brought a sizable voice that lacked the baritonal velvet of such famous interpreters of the role as Ettore Bastianini, Robert Merrill, or the underrated Matteo Managuera. He was more effective at projecting the court jester’s fury than his tenderness for his daughter. Yet Caproni rose to tragic heights in the final scene. 

As the assassin Sparafucile Morris D. Robinson was a hulking, menacing presence with a deep, powerful, almost Slavic basso voice. Audrey Babcock’s dusky mezzo-soprano and sexy theatricality lit up the stage as Maddalena.

Stewart Robertson led a taut, razor sharp performance that built to a whirlwind final act. 

This Rigoletto was far more than the sum of its components. When Partridge held center stage, Verdi’s bel canto melodies really soared. 

Copyright Miami Herald

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