Lyric Opera of Baltimore presents a worthwhile ‘Rigoletto’


The jester, Rigoletto (Stephen Powell), amuses the court in Lyric Opera of Baltimore's "Rigoletto." (Rich Riggins Photography )
May 19, 2013

The world celebrates the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth this October, but opera companies hardly need any encouragement to stage the Italian composer’s works. Lyric Opera of Baltimore’s staging of “Rigoletto,” heard on Friday night at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, offered another chance to appreciate the mastery of Verdi’s first great achievement, given its premiere at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice in 1851.

This Baltimore production offered many excellent qualities, beginning with the powerful and emotionally intense performance of baritone Stephen Powell in the title role. Verdi’s masterful characterization of Rigoletto makes the viewer both dislike and sympathize with the spiteful court jester, and Powell captured both sides of this complex role. As the loathsome Duke of Mantua, tenor Bryan Hymel, a recent winner of both the Beverly Sills and Olivier awards, displayed a ringing top, if not always quite so much elegance at the bottom, and he also drew out the role’s hard-to-find sympathetic qualities.

Norah Amsellem’s soprano was not quite pure enough in tone to make a great Gilda, especially in the exceptionally high parts, but she was certainly a very good one. Matthew Treviño was a wicked Sparafucile, with fine low notes, but not enough at the top to double in the baritone role of Monterone, as he was required to do. Jennifer Feinstein was a smoky Maddalena.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played beautifully in the pit, with just a few misalignments — especially because of the tendency of the otherwise fine men’s chorus to rush — but they were smoothed out by Richard Buckley at the podium.

You could be excused for thinking that the production looked like something from 40 years ago, since the sets were made for Cincinnati Opera in 1979. Nothing about the costumes (A.T. Jones) or the direction (John Hoomes) was particularly noteworthy, but they also did not detract from the story or music.


The jester, Rigoletto (Stephen Powell), mourns his dead daughter Gilda (Norah Amsellem) in Lyric Opera of Baltimore's "Rigoletto." (Rich Riggins Photography )

Downey is a freelance writer.

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