OPERA REVIEW : N.Y. Company Opens Return Engagement With ‘Rigoletto’

Times Music Writer

For the opening of its brief, return engagement at the Orange County Performing Arts Center--seven performances, ending Sunday--New York City Opera presented Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in a production first staged by Tito Capobianco in Lincoln Center last July.

As a fresh look at a familiar masterpiece, Capobianco’s latest “Rigoletto,” seen on national television in September, has been called timid and uninspired. It lived up to that description in Segerstrom Hall Tuesday night.

Yet, despite what seem to be purposefully vulgar decors and costumes, both by NYCO veteran Carl Toms, the new version has a pleasing, efficiently theatrical, look. And despite some odd moments--as when Gilda, after “Si, vendetta,” runs back into the Duke’s bedchamber--this staging moves to its climaxes in a mostly straightforward manner.

Conducted neatly, if without maximum fervor, by Scott Bergeson, the sold-out opening-night performance was the occasion of some strong singing.


Jon Garrison dominated the proceedings as a Duke of Mantua clearly in charge of his musical lines, textual sense and legato tone. One high-note miscalculation (in the duet with Gilda) aside, Garrison produced a handsome sound with freedom and intelligence, and delivered the Verdian goods consistently.

In a dramatic way, his likable, swaggering Duke took over the stage, giving faceted and credible responses to all histrionic occasions.

Faith Esham, his blond and ravishing Gilda, made lush sounds most of the time, looked positively angelic in every moment, and produced erratic--sometimes resonant, sometimes colorless--singing.

Veteran baritone Pablo Elvira, vocally a medium-size but healthy-sounding Rigoletto, seemed to alternate between periods of ringing, Italianate vocalism and periods of mere marking; the alternations occurred without any logical progression. Dramatically, too, Elvira created some moments of great urgency and intensity, but occasionally would fall back into a mode of low-energy.

As City Opera casts are wont to do, the rest of this one varied between the assertive and the ordinary.

Susanne Marsee made the most of her opportunities as Maddalena; Mark S. Doss, despite weak low notes, brought vocal weight and strong stage presence to Sparafucile; Richard Byrne indicated the ambiguities in Marullo’s feelings. The singing of the nicely prepared (by Joseph Colaneri) men’s chorus lacked core. After a weak beginning, the pit orchestra played carefully and in admirable balance with the stage.

For the record, no amplification was used at this performance, a spokesperson for the company told The Times.