Operagasm Exclusive Review: My First Rigoletto
by Melissa Wimbish
While I love the idea of getting to know an opera in a concert setting, it has been difficult for me to do so in the past. I find it hard to be “swept away” without physical action, lights and most importantly GOWNS. My mind wanders to thoughts that make me feel like an operimposter … (Don’t worry, it’s okay to make up words now and use ellipses excessively because Trump.)
I’ve always felt like I missed something when it comes to Verdi. When I left my apartment on one of the first cold days of fall in Baltimore to hear Baltimore Concert Opera’s Rigoletto, my goal was to try listening to his music in a different way. I wasn’t going to worry if my mind wandered or if I felt bored at some point. Just because it’s one of the most popular and performed operas doesn’t mean I have to love it the first time I hear it. Or ever.
The overture began. I imagined that I was at the premiere and that one of these people in the audience was Verdi. Maestro James Harp played sturdily and orchestrally as always. Hair perfectly coiffed I see. I’m sure I had heard parts of this overture before, but most of it was unfamiliar, foreboding and — for real? Is someone’s cell phone going off right now? Yes, the answer is yes. My time travel fantasy was immediately ruined and I tried to think of a situation in my past when my cell phone rang during a performance, but I couldn’t because I ALWAYS LISTEN WHEN THE NICE LADY OR GENTLEMAN TELLS ME TO TURN MY CELL PHONE OFF AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PERFORMANCE. But it’s cool.
Act One begins. I enjoyed the voices immediately. Tenor Joshua Kohl seemed comfortable as the Duke and if he told me this was one of his “fall-out-of-bed-and-sing” roles, I’d believe him. I’m personally thankful I never have to sing this role because homeboy never leaves the stage and never stops singing high notes! Also among the guys that never stop singing was Tim Mix in the title role. For a minute, I thought his instrument might be too beautiful for a doofus like Rigoletto, but as I started listening more closely to his music, it didn’t seem like Verdi was suggesting that the court jester was an actual dummy. It was more like he had to play one on TV. Bass-baritone Justin Hopkins as Count Monterone (and later Sparafucile) was. literally. everything. His voice is the kind of thunder that reminds you how much bone is inside your body. If I was a music critic in 1851, I may have said something like, “The first act dragged on so long that I got tired of hearing men singing and longed for the soprano” or “It was a bland start musically”. But since I’m Melissa Wimbish I’ll say that I was really happy when the first act was over. Break out the pitchforks, Verdi lovers.
Here’s the music I know! Act Two introduces Gilda, another character I usually think of as limited. But because I had my new listening attitude on, it occurred to me that Verdi had a gift for unlocking the sophistication in these otherwise simple people. In Gilda’s case, he takes a naive little girl who’s basically led that Rapunzel life, and makes “Caro nome” her defining moment. Sarah Asmar sang the role with ease and clarity, earning especially boisterous applause for her rendition of the famous aria.
To be honest, I don’t remember listening very actively much longer after the second act because I wasn’t as familiar with that musical material. It was just enjoyable to be in the warm hall thinking about Verdi and what stuff I was going to Google about him when I got home. The performance certainly inspired me to seek out Verdi and Piave and their other collaborations — so mission accomplished there. Other highlights include: 1) The famous quartet sung in a much more sensitive and musically-interesting way than I usually hear, and 2) The beautifully-prepared male chorus melting my face! Bravi, gents. 3) Peter Tomaszewski, Jason Buckwalter (stepping away from the chorus pit), Heather DeSimone, and Kimberly Christie in small supporting roles that were real standouts. Their concert opera acting was a model. In fact, I think the BCO choristers could teach us all a thing or two about acting with scores in tow. Every single time I see one of them take the stage, it is so obvious that they’re on a different level in that department. It would be nice to see and hear more of them in principal roles.
Up next for Baltimore Concert Opera is Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah in February 2017. I definitely wouldn’t miss this one because the music is gorgeous, this opera doesn’t come around much and most importantly Colleen Daly is singing the title role. Bling bling. Click here for details: http://www.baltimoreconcertopera.com/
Melissa Wimbish is a soprano and founding member of Operagasm. She typically avoids writing reviews but dabbles on occasion. You can read more about her here: http://www.melissawimbish.com/