Friday, May 18, 2018

Superb singing in Portland Opera's Rigoletto

Stephen Powell as Rigoletto | Photo by Cory Weaver.
Exceptional performances by the principal singers highlighted Portland Opera’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto on Thursday evening (May 8) at Keller Auditorium. Presented with traditional scenery and costumes, the story of the humpbacked jester, his lovely and naïve daughter, and a lascivious Duke resonated with an audience that has been well-numbed by current scandals involving famous people in business, entertainment, and politics. With Stephen Powell in the title role, Katrina Galka as his daughter Gilda, and Barry Banks as the Duke of Mantua, Rigoletto proved its evergreen status once again, making one wonder if humanity has learned much of anything since its premiere in 1851.

Powell’s marvelous interpretation revealed a wide palette of emotions from brusque bullying humor when he protects the Duke to pitiable sadness when he realizes that his daughter is dead. And he delivered it all with a gorgeous baritone that never had a rough edge, even at the loudest moments.

Galka, a graduate of Portland Opera’s Resident Artist Program, went beyond all expectations with a wonderfully vulnerable Gilda who nonetheless summons an inner strength that causes her to sacrifice herself for the reprehensible Duke. Galka and Powell were superb in their duets, such as “Sì! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta” in which Rigoletto cries for revenge while Gilda pleads for her lover.

Banks strutted about as the Duke of Mantua, peeling off high notes with the carefree nonchalance of a playboy. He extended final note of “La donna è mobile" effortlessly, and it should have made the highlight reel for the evening news.
Barry Banks as the Duke and Katrina Galka as Gilda | Photo by Cory Weaver.
Scott Conner cut a dangerous Sparafucile and Hannah Penn a seductive Maddalena. However, Penn’s voice was difficult to hear whenever she was paired with others. Reginald Smith Jr was a forceful Count Monterone with demonstratively thunderous voice that gripped the audience and didn’t let go until he exited the stage. Helen Huang as Countess Ceprano flirted shamelessly with the Duke while her husband, Shi Li as Count Ceprano, fumed in frustration.

The chorus of the Duke’s retainers sang lustily and left no doubt that they would do anything to protect him. The orchestra, conducted by George Manahan, got off to an anemic start, but revved up the dynamic range as the opera progressed.

The scenery, designed by Sarah J. Conly and J. Michael Deegan for The Atlanta Opera, was used by Portland Opera when it last produced Rigoletto in 2009. The staging revealed the interior of a stone palace for the Duke’s residence, a stony courtyard and steps to Rigoletto’s home, and the lowly lodgings of Sparafucile and his sister. Patrons who sat on the far left-side may have missed the entry of Rigoletto and Gilda in a boat because of a wall in the final scene.
Photo by Cory Weaver.

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