Opera Idaho opened its production of Verdi’s tragedy ‘Rigoletto’ at the Morrison Center with three remarkable voices on stage: Met Opera baritone Mark Rucker in the title role, and up and coming tenor Won Whi Choi as the Duke of Mantua and soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez, a Rubert native, who made her Idaho debut as Gilda.
Opera Idaho produced “Rigoletto” as a tribute to Esther Simplot, one of the opera’s most ardent supporters and a benefactress to all the arts in Boise, on the occasion of her 80th birthday.
Friday’s snowstorm did keep some people away, but about 600 people did make it and were deeply appreciative of the talent on stage.
Saturday night’s production sounded amazing with a strong performance by the Opera Idaho orchestra under the direction of Steven Crawford and the men’s chorus led by Boise-based baritone Jason Detwiler as the devious Marullo.
Metropolitan Opera baritone Rucker gave a rich and layered performance of the title character, the court jester who struggles against a curse and his own demons as he tries to save his daughter from himself. His rich and seasoned voice ranged from dramatic lament to tender expressions of fatherly love. And his physicality in the role downplayed the character’s hunched-back, playing it less as an impediment and more as a point to struggle against.
South Korean raised tenor Choi made for a strapping and sexy Duke of Mantua, which makes it more believable that women would so willingly fall for his charms, and sacrifice themselves for his life. His soaring tenor easily and fearlessly reached the high Cs in La donna è mobile, one of the most known arias in the operatic canon.
Stephan Kirchgraber was delightfully amoral and devious as Sparafucile, and Boise’s mezzo soprano Michele Detwiler was appealing as Maddalena, his sister who helps him lure the Duke to his assassination, and then begs for his life when she falls for his good looks.
But it was Lopez’s Gilda that was the gem of the evening. A native of Rupert, she dazzled the audience with her rich soprano and gave a remarkable performance that showed a keen acting ability as she made her professional debut in her home state. Lopez was a sublime match for Rucker and Choi in their duets both vocally and in her performance quality. In the third act, she portrays pure heartbreak as she listens as the Duke seduces the saucy Maddelana. She has a huge career ahead of her.
Both Choi and Lopez came to Boise with Rucker, who worked with them in Met Opera star Martina Arroyo’s “Prelude to Performance,” a program geared to give young performers the skills to launch their careers. These two are excellent examples of the program and are definitely artists to watch.
Director Michael Unger's production was solid, with truly grand sets and rich costumes, however the production's pacing was a bit slow and hampered by a long, laborious scene change in Act I.