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Mystery is high note in flat performance


The performance of Verdi's "Rigoletto" at the Lyric Opera House on Friday evening proved to be an unremarkable, if somewhat mysterious, affair.

No one -- either in the organization that presented the performance or the audience -- seemed to know much about the fTC visiting Opera Nazionale Italiana other than that it was formed a few years ago. A poster proclaimed the company's city of origin as Florence, but the abilities of the singers and the level of the production seemed far more like those one might encounter in a provincial repertory company. And here's another unanswered question: What was the Opera Nazionale Italiana doing traveling with the musicians from the Budapest State Opera Orchestra and choristers from the Hungarian Army Chorus?

Those questions seemed more intriguing than the performance, which was very much of the bus-and-truck variety: a tiny (if excellent) orchestra, professionally competent (if not scintillating) singers, and bargain-basement sets that boasted lighting effects less sophisticated than those that illuminate many of the Christmas displays in some Towson neighborhoods.

The singing was -- for the most part -- maddeningly even: There were no highs and no lows. One could say that it was a cast of flat-liners. Baritone Maurizio Scarfeo -- who sometimes forgot that he was supposed to be a crippled hunchback -- sang all the notes in the title role without approaching the supple lyricism and the dark bravura that lie at the heart of the part. Of Fiorella Prandini's Gilda, Andrea Elena's Duke of Mantua, Edoardo Zecca's Sparafucile and Anna Schiatti's Maddalena, one could make similarremarks. Rosalba Trevisan's direction was of the wind-it-up-and-let-it-run variety: There was never any sense that human beings inhabited these roles or that the action had a significance deeper than an opportunity for singing.

The acting (though one wouldn't have cared if the singing were better) was as persuasive as the kind one encounters in high school productions: It rarely went beyond a wave of the hand or a glowering look. The small orchestra -- there were only two double basses -- played its heart out under the intelligent conducting of Stefano Pellegrino.

One of the interesting things about the event was the size of the audience. With almost no advance publicity, this single performance attracted enough people to fill most of the Lyric's cavernous spaces. There's clearly real hunger for opera in Baltimore.

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