We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


The stellar cast of Verdi's Rigoletto produced by Martha Cardona Opera

Last night we had the great pleasure of witnessing yet another triumph of the Martha Cardona Opera. One never tires of Verdi's 1851 masterpiece Rigoletto, with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on Victor Hugo's scandalous play Le roi s'amuse. In mid-19th c. Italy, it was quite a challenge to negotiate with the Austrian censors and many plot compromises were made. Thankfully there were no compromises made with the music and conductor Gregory Ortega led a crisp and insightful reading of the score, from the portentous opening to the lively party music.

Presenting opera in a semi-staged version is a challenge for the audience as well as for the singers. Audience members must mentally invent the setting and the costumes; singers are generally confined to a shallow playing area in front of the orchestra and may have difficulty balancing their vocal  volume with that of the orchestra. None of this seemed to be a problem last night. Minimal but effective direction was provided by Founder and Artistic Director Daniel Cardona.

The singers were undeniably first rate and of the caliber that delights audiences world wide. Highly impressive was baritone Jason Stearns as the eponymous Rigoletto. His acting was so powerful and convincing that his firm baritone seemed only to serve the various nuances of his character. Without any "help" from an artificial hump, he contorted his muscular body and adopted a limp that told us plainly that this poor man had experienced a lifetime of suffering and humiliation. His soliloquy was moving and his duets with Gilda were heartbreaking. This was a performance to be remembered.

Such characters often turn their anger at their bodies toward other people in their pathway and Rigoletto turns his anger onto the corteggani of his employer, the Duke of Mantua. As court jester, he mercilessly pokes, prods, and skewers these courtiers. Thus he incurs the wrath of the elderly Monterone who has come to court to protest the dishonoring of his daughter. Monterone curses him and this maledizione is tragically fulfilled at the end of the opera by the death of Rigoletto's beloved daughter Gilda, the only person toward whom he feels tenderness and love.

Last night's Gilda was played--no, inhabited, by the lovely soprano Yunnie Park, whom we well remember from Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.  She has a scintillating sound marked by a liquid vibrato and great ease with the fioritura. The very picture of innocence, she is an easy mark for the licentious Duke who has been making eyes at her in church, the only place the lonely girl has been permitted to visit. Ms. Park sang the "Caro nome" with such feeling that she made us remember our first delirious crush.

As the Duke, tenor Galeano Salas, whom we greatly enjoyed in Santa Fe last summer, used his generous sound well and has grown considerably since winning an Opera Index award. His instrument is full-throated with a great deal of breadth to the sound and, happily, no pushing. His appearance is so sweet that we didn't sense any nastiness in his portrayal.  His Duke was more carefree than devious.

Bass-baritone Kian Freitas overcame his youth to effectively portray the aforementioned elderly courtier Monterone. He did this by coloring his fine voice with dignity mingled with outrage.  There are no small roles! He is a Martha Cardona regular and we are glad of it.

As Maddalena, mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel sang well and was believable as Sparafucile's seductive sister whose duty it is to set up the victims for her brother's assassinations. She too is taken in by the Duke's flattery and convinces her brother to betray his code of honor as an assassin.

Another mezzo-soprano Meghan Sands did well with the small role of the Countess Ceprano who has captured the Duke's attention. Jeffrey Perez was fine as her husband. As Giovanna, mezzo-soprano Fiorella Velez sang well but did not create a distinctive character.

Our one disappointment was with bass Matthew Anchel who sang well but was dramatically hampered by being "on the book". There must be a story behind this which we do not know.  Tenor Eamon Pereyra sang the role of Borsa;  baritone Lane Johnson made a fine Marullo.  Patricia Vital sang the role of the Page and the other courtiers were sung by Ray Calderon, Lindell Carter, Tim DiFiore, and Robert Pagnani.

The titles were reasonably well translated but unfortunately not always coincident with what was being sung.  At times they fell behind and at other times rushed ahead.  This was our sole quibble with an outstanding performance.

It is an extraordinary pleasure to hear opera up close and personal. Merkin Hall is a fine venue for this purpose. 

(c) meche kroop

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