Operatic highs, lows in ‘Rigoletto’

Adding modern flair into a reinterpretation of the classic opera, ‘Rigoletto’ had something for old fans and new admirers.  (David Armelino | The Oswegonian)
Adding modern flair into a reinterpretation of the classic opera, ‘Rigoletto’ had something for old fans and new admirers. (David Armelino | The Oswegonian)

When someone says, “I’m going to the opera,” it conjures images of beautiful people in beautiful clothes, an ornate theater and an intense show full of dramatic music and story. Many of those traits were seen on Sunday’s matinee showing of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto: The Oswego Story” at Waterman Theatre.

Many of the older patrons came in suits, ties and overcoats. Oswego State students also made a strong showing, though only a handful dressed to the level of the older, perhaps more experienced viewers. The seats in Waterman Theatre were almost full, a rare event for the regulars of Waterman’s concerts and showings.

There was a divide of opera experience among the viewers, as many of the older audience members talked about their previous opera experiences before and after the show. However, for many of the younger students, it was their first opera experience.

“It was very interesting in the original Italian,” Ruth Salvetti, a sophomore and a first-time opera audience member said. “The music helped the plotline along and kept it moving.”

The Italian “Rigoletto” is an opera in three acts on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave from the play “Le Roi s’amuse” (The king amuses himself) by Victor Hugo, and was composed by renowned Romantic operatic composer Giuseppe Verdi.

The Oswego Opera Theater added a unique twist to the classic by setting the story in Oswego in the Roaring ‘20s instead of Italy. The names of the locations of the play were changed, as well as the translations on the small projector screen above the action. The setting was adjusted to reflect the theme, describing Oswego as Italy, naming Binghamton as a neighboring town, and referring to seeing Lake Ontario as a right of passage. Each one of these added translations elicited a laugh from the audience.

Despite the change of scenery, the plot of “Rigoletto” changed little. It follows Rigoletto, the comedian at a speakeasy in Oswego, who is placed under a father’s curse by Monterone, a priest who denounces the singer of the speakeasy and a known womanizer, Duke, for dishonoring his daughter. When Rigoletto makes fun of Monterone, Monterone places a curse on Duke, as well as Rigoletto, who has a daughter named Gilda that everyone else in the speakeasy believes to be his girlfriend. Rigoletto seeks revenge on Duke, who took advantage of his daughter. As tragic irony goes, Gilda sacrifices herself to save Duke, whom she is hopelessly in love with. As Rigoletto said himself: “so the innocent one is the victim of my revenge.”

Many audience members were in tears in the final scene as Rigoletto held his dying daughter in his arms.

There were many highlights  throughout the show. Jimi James as the baritone, Rigoletto, Jonathan Howell as the tenor Duke, and Tatiana Poletskaya as Gilda played the three main characters. Each performed well. James, in particular, lived up to his praise from the Springfield News Leader as “a force of nature,” blowing the audience away with a strong, velvet tone and the clarity of his diction.

Howell and Poletskaya were fabulous, and particularly delivered on the two most famous arias from the opera. From Howell, the comedic “La donna e mobile” (The woman is fickle) from the final act when Duke describes women in general, and from Poletskaya, “Caro nome” (Dear name) when she is declaring her love for Duke, who gave her a fake name and identity as a college student.

Another surprise for students in the music department was seeing Dan Williams take the stage as Monterone. Williams, an Oswego State alumnus, who graduated in 2009, studied voice, piano and conducting during his time here. Williams is still involved in the music department, serving as the accompanist for the College Choir, and remaining involved in the Festival Choir. He also served as the show’s choir director, citing that most of the opera choir members are volunteers from the Oswego community, and many have full-time jobs.

The show ended with a standing ovation, with particular appreciation for James (the baritone), who entered the line for the final bow with a perfectly executed somersault. For both young and old, it was a wonderful day at the opera.