Seasoned opera lovers and neophytes alike could easily place this version of Verdi’s opera within Renaissance Italy, thanks to the ornate Elizabethan costumes delineated by Tzykun. The Countess Ceprano modeled a great farthingale underneath her sumptuous-looking gown, gingerly navigating around the stage, while the courtiers wore ebony period breeches and ruffled collars.
Conklin’s set was a mystery, consisting of a divided stage and a larger-than-life Piero della Francesca painting that became more grotesque as the story unfolded. A model of a white marble city loomed above, representing an ideal society, while the action of the opera took place below in front of a black, brick wall. Thanks to the program notes by Dr. Magda Romanska, it became evident that this sparseness was meant to symbolize a dark pit, where the Duke’s corruption seeped into every aspect of life. Yet the attempt at poignancy actually obscured the opera’s setting. Almost every location, with the exception of the initial scene at the ducal palace, was ambiguous.
Fortunately this Rigoletto boasted an intriguing cast of singers. The incomparable Nadine Sierra was Gilda. Now twenty-six, Sierra is celebrated as one of the youngest-ever winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions — she had yet to turn twenty-one when she took the prize in 2009 — and has a riveting, slender soprano. Hers is an old-world sound with an astonishing evenness of vibrato, flawless legato, and jaw-dropping dynamic nuance.
American baritone Todd Thomas gave a satisfying performance as the cursed jester; his singing of the three-part “Cortigiani vil razza dannata” was both forceful and physical and he fully conveyed a father overwrought with desperation. Once Monterone, (impressively sung by Nathan Stark), issued his curse and la maledizione took effect, Rigoletto’s deformities — specifically his limp and hunched back — became more pronounced. Bass Morris Robinson was aptly cast as Sparafucile. His voice and stature are intimidating. A linebacker in black leather, the vastness of his instrument would have thrilled even Verdi.
Tenor Scott Quinn sang the Duke of Mantua and was less pleasing vocally and dramatically than the other principals: his voice was unable to fill the 2,750-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
Maestro Joseph Rescigno, who led the Atlanta Opera Orchestra, kept tempos brisk throughout the evening. The orchestra played well this night and was sensitive to the smaller voices on stage. As always, Walter Huff’s men’s chorus sounded crisp and expressive as they skulked about the Duke’s realm.