At a time when some opera companies are struggling just to maintain the status quo, the Wolf Trap Opera has considerably expanded its reach. Not only is it offering opera at the Barns at Wolf Trap, but it also has extended its collaborations so that its singers appear around the city — at the Phillips Collection, at Union Market, in College Park. Furthermore, it has brought opera back to the Filene Center: A return that began a few years ago as a semi-staged concert performance has blossomed, on Friday night, into a full production of “Rigoletto.”
The Wolf Trap Opera can do this because it’s not a full-time opera company. It’s a training program for young professionals, and it’s funded by the Wolf Trap Foundation. That makes its ambition no less remarkable: Preparing a full-scale “Rigoletto” with young singers for a one-night-only production before thousands of people is quite a venture even for a year-round house. The question is what it serves. This “Rigoletto,” directed by Crystal Manich and with a large rotating, efficiently flexible set by Erhard Rom, would have been at home in any opera house, but it’s possible that the fizz and energy of the semi-
staging might come across as more dynamic to a large outdoor audience.
In any case, this was a perfectly respectable “Rigoletto,” with some powerful young voices. (Insert here the critic’s obligatory lament about the necessity for amplification in this space, and the challenges of hearing through it what’s actually going on.) Piotr Buszewski, as the Duke of Mantua, had a bright, tight tenor complete with a high C, without, perhaps, quite all the lyric flow one might wish, but generally sounding and acting the part of a very young womanizer. Mané Galoyan offered a shining soprano as an affecting Gilda. As Rigoletto, Kidon Choi seemed overparted in the first act due to marked intonation problems, but he focused as the evening went on to become effective and powerful when he railed at the Mantuan courtiers for abducting his daughter. All the singers had some challenges coordinating with conductor Grant Gershon in the orchestra pit.
Three singers showed that they’ve benefited from their summer at Wolf Trap with marked improvement from earlier productions: Patrick Guetti and Zoie Reams were a strong Sparafucile and Maddalena, and Joshua Conyers was powerful as the embittered Monterone, whose curse of Rigoletto in the first act is fulfilled in the final scene, when he finds his daughter dead. Placing Galoyan in the balcony as Gilda dies, so that the soprano is singing over Rigoletto’s head while he embraces her dead body below, was a smart final touch in a production that otherwise was pretty much by the book. What the Wolf Trap Opera did this summer is remarkably ambitious; it might take yet more resources to get the final production of the year to really soar.