Masterful “Rigoletto” Boasts Exceptional Cast

United StatesUnited States Verdi, Rigoletto: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Evan Rogister (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 23.3.2013 (JLZ)

Verdi: Rigoletto

Rigoletto: Željko Lučić
Gilda: Albina Shagimuratova
Duke: Giuseppe Filianoti
Sparafucile: Andrea Silvestrelli
Maddalena: Nicole Piccolomini
Monterone: Todd Thomas

Conductor: Evan Rogister
Director: Stephen Barlow
Set Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Costume Designer: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Guest Chorus Master: Ian Robertson

Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto makes this venerable nineteenth-century score come to vivid life. The traditional staging makes use of a rotating stage to facilitate the scene shifts, yet the fine casting was ultimately key to the moving, tragic reading.

In the title role Željko Lučić embodied Rigoletto with vocal nuance and convincing acting. (Lučić replaces Andrzej Dobber, who sang the part at Lyric earlier this season.) As a Verdi baritone who can command the stage in arias, yet fit comfortably into ensembles, Lučić’s voice is an exceptional match with the part, and he won the audience with subtleties of phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. His strong entrance in the first scene was filled with character details. Lučić’s attraction emerged in the duets with Gilda, “Figlia! Mio padre!” in which Rigoletto reveals the value of his daughter, and in the second-act duet “Tutte le feste”—both even more convincing because of the ways in which he shows himself devoted to her—and in the final duet, “V’ho ingannato,” Lučić was similarly effective, shaping the lines to affirm Rigoletto’s devotion, as Gilda dies in his arms.

As Gilda, Albina Shagimuratova was convincing vocally. Even though she was somewhat understated in one of her duets with Lučić, she gave a rich and full reading of “Caro nome.” Her attention to detail and line caught the attention of the audience, and effectively conveyed Gilda’s infatuation, while highlighting Verdi’s bel canto elements.

Giuseppe Filianoti was notable as the Duke of Mantua, with a clear, ringing tenor in his opening aria “Questa o quello,” balancing bravura with earnestness. Even the upper-register pitches were unquestionably present—and sustained. Filianoti was equally powerful in the second-act aria “Ella mi fu rapita!” and the familiar third-act canzone “La donna è mobile” was as solid as one could wish. While the final reprise of the tune sounded strained, it may have been the result of his placement off-stage, yet the overall effect was laudable.

As Sparafucile, Andrea Silvestrelli gave a strong, delineated characterization of the assassin, and his resonant, articulate bass rang out through the house whenever he was on stage. Nicole Piccomolimi was equally strong as Maddalena, with her full-bodied mezzo soprano adding richly to the final act quartet, as well as her part in the dénouement.

The chorus seemed uneven, with the courtiers sometimes masking the solo voices in the opening scene of the first act. A similar problem with balance was noticeable in the second, where the chorus and orchestra were overly loud, despite the valiant effort of conductor Evan Rogister, and the brass sometimes dominated the orchestra. But the strings were consistently strong, especially in the atmospheric third act, and in Rigoletto’s second-act aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,” the solo cello accompanied Lučić masterfully.

James L. Zychowicz