The Summer Opera Theatre's "Rigoletto," now playing at the Hartke Theatre, is one of the highlights of Washington's busy opera season. The credit goes partly to Giuseppe Verdi, who filled this work with melodies, action and emotion abundant even by his high standards. But also noteworthy is a cast that is strong all the way from Jason Stearns in the title role down to Jessie Sutherland in the tiny role of a page.
Half of the singing roles in the cast are company debuts, and they have been chosen with a discerning eye for singing and acting talent. Conductor Kate Tamarkin paces and balances the music for maximum impact, and stage director Leland P. Kimball III keeps the action vivid but uncluttered. Particularly noteworthy is his visual treatment of the rambunctious men's chorus in the first two acts.
Top singing and acting honors go to Stearns, whose voice is well controlled through all the extreme demands of the role, notably the gamut of emotions in Act 2 that range from a tearful plea for mercy to a thundering pledge of revenge. His acting is as powerful as his singing, which is very powerful indeed.
Benjamin Warschawski seems born for the role of the testosterone-driven Duke of Mantua, handling with ease some of the greatest tenor music ever written. As Gilda, Stacy Mastrian has a voice that is sweet and agile with just the right hint of fragility. Veronica Jaeger has mastered Maddalena's curious mix of warmth and ferocity, and Kwang-Kyu Lee is a properly menacing Sparafucile.
There will be repeat performances tomorrow, Friday and Sunday.
-- Joseph McLellan