The tenor gets the best tunes in Verdi's "Rigoletto," as in most operas -- from "Quest' o quella" in the first act to "La donn' e mobile" in the last -- but in the production given twice this past weekend by the Prince George's Civic Opera, Donald Frank showed clearly why the title role is the baritone's.
Frank dominated the stage from his first mocking entrance as the court jester at an elegant Renaissance party to his final cry of total despair. He sang with great power and warmth and a clarity of diction that made every word audible and fully justified the opera company's decision to sing the opera in English.
He was enthusiastically applauded -- most enthusiastically of all by tenor Christopher King, who was in the audience rather than on stage. King had been scheduled to sing the role of the Duke, but left the production to participate in the Metropolitan Opera's national final auditions in New York. King's substitute, Carlos Gueits-Bonilla, performed ably but was somewhat overshadowed by Frank's excellent interpretation.
Rounding out the first-line quartet, Judith Bauden was an appealing Gilda both vocally and dramatically, and Adelle Nicholson was spectacular in the small but vivid role of Maddalena, radiating a kind of animal magnetism that makes one wonder what she would be like in "Carmen." Her voice is rich, flexible and beautifully nuanced, but she acted with such fire that this is mentioned as an after-thought.
Marks' acting was not quite as good as his singing, though not bad by traditional operatic standards, and the same is true of Samuel L. E. Bonds, who was vocally a very impressive Monterone on opening night. The chorus sang beautifully but seemed sometimes a bit stiff in its stage actions.
The quality of the scenery, the costumes and the orchestra expertly conducted by Marc Tardue belied the low budget of this "Rigoletto." More than one large company has charged two or three times the ticket price of this production for performances that were not much better.