Rigoletto: Brian Montgomery, baritone
Gilda: Amy Cochrane, soprano
Duke of Mantua: Carlo Scibelli, tenor
Sparafucile: Charles Austin, bass
Madison Symphony Orchestra
John DeMain, conductor
The Madison Opera's production of Verdi's Rigoletto was in every regard an artistic triumph. The house was approximately two-thirds full for the two performances, which is about the break-even point, financially. Those who weren't in attendance missed something wonderful, both to see and to listen to.
In the title role, Brian Montgomery's high baritone was strong and secure, and he brought out both the tender and the sinister side of his character, the instigator and the victim of the opera's central tragedy. As Rigoletto's obsessively beloved daughter Gilda, soprano Amy Cochrane sang beautifully, especially in the third and fourth acts, when her voice had fully warmed up. Her characterization of innocence and true love was at once touching and believable. Tenor Carlo Scibelli's portrayal of the rapacious Duke of Mantua was better sung than acted, but the singing was fine indeed; his voice is clear and bright, and he was secure right up to the top of a very high part. The singing was good for all of the smaller parts, but of these the standout was Charles Austin, whose rich, full bass gave a solidly cynical foundation to the role of the assassin, Sparafucile. This is Verdi, after all, so it goes without saying that everybody has glorious music to sing.
The production was a visual spectacular. Sets from Tri-Cities Opera were beautiful and allowed sufficient room for the action. Period costuming (also from Tri-Cities) was luxurious. William Owen's lighting created the right moods in all the right places. Elizabeth Bachman's stage direction made it entirely credible that the audience sees things the actors on stage do not, giving the story continuity at the same time as it maintained dramatic tension.
Verdi needs a big sound in the pit, provided by 52 members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Marshalling these large forces and at the same time following every nuance of the singers, conductor John DeMain provided both the forward momentum and the close support that made the difference between a good performance and a satisfyingly great one. The Sunday audience went wild with applause, as well they should have.
Isthmus, April, 1997
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson