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Guest blog review of Baltimore Opera Theatre's 'Rigoletto'

A scheduling conflict prevented me from catching the second production in Baltimore Opera Theatre's inaugural season at the Hippodrome, so I asked local opera buff Andrew Pappas -- I knew he'd bet there -- to submit a report, which is below. (Feel free to add your own reactions.)

Note that the company, on its Web site, has announced that "Madama Butterfly" will be performed next season (Oct. 23), directed by Giorgio Lalov and conducted by Markand Thakar.

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Now, here's that guest blog post about "Rigoletto":

Thursday, March 11, 2010, at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, an ample crowd of opera fans and would-be aficionados attended a production of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto presented by Giorgio Lalov and Baltimore Opera Theatre. From the first notes of the overture to the final curtain there were abundant orchestral and vocal performance highlights to assure a successful evening. Led by conductor Krassimir Topolov, the orchestra capably supported the vocal and dramatic achievements of the talented soloists and able chorus. For regional opera, the sets, costumes, and lighting were grand. The staging was remarkable. The appreciative audience rewarded the performers with boisterous applause throughout the evening. Any doubts that one might have held about the company prior to the performance were emphatically banished. This was a first-rate production.

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The role of Rigoletto was performed by young Verdi baritone Nelson Martinez, who began his career in Cuba and who, at this juncture, has sung several roles in a number of venues across this country and abroad. His voice is larger than life, deeply expressive throughout the entire vocal range of the role. From poignantly and plaintively delivered pianissimos to super-grand explosions of sound with power to spare, his dramatic emotional impact was always impressive. With his immense vocal and acting talents, he convincingly portrayed the old and deformed court jester, capable of hurling derisive insults himself, but profoundly vulnerable to the terrifying curse that humbles him and portends the tragic outcome that unfolds.

The Duke of Mantua was portrayed with vocal ease and a great deal of polish and swagger by Ukrainian tenor Igor Borko. With numerous credits in this country and abroad, Borko brought a wealth of experience and exceptional timbre and stamina to his impressive performance. Most notable were the Act I aria about a life of pleasure with as many women as possible (Questa o quella - "This woman or that") and the more famous Act III aria about the wonderful inconstancy of women (La donna e mobile - "Woman is fickle").

Gilda as sung by Puerto Rican soprano Magda Nieves was performed exactly as you would want. She was the epitome of youth and innocence. She was tender, pure, and articulate in vocal delivery and dramatic portrayal. I found her exceptionally demure and pleasing in her Act I aria in which she adoringly repeats the name of her newly found love, Gaultier Malde (Caro nome - "Dearest name").

Of the many others in the cast, William Powers, an American, as the assassin Sparafucile and Viara Zhelezova, from Bulgaria, who sang both Maddalena and Countess Ceprano, were standouts.

Conductor Krassimir Topolov and the excellent orchestra and chorus were from Bulgaria, with a few local additional instrumentalists in the orchestra. The supernumerary roles were admirably served by students of the Hereford Theatre based at Hereford High School in Parkton, Maryland.

Lest you think I forgot, I must mention how well performed was the famous and abundantly loved quartet in the final act. The four singers gave a spacious and well tendered account, each voice given its perfect due. This was opera at its best!

-- Andrew Pappas

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