News and Features

Dallas Opera's 'Rigoletto' Scores a Consistent Success

Laura Claycomb as Gilda and Paulo Gavanelli as Rigoletto at the Dallas Opera

An opera as familiar as Rigoletto needs, first of all, a decent set of singers (as always in Verdi), but also a handsome production and creative stage direction that avoids cliché while honoring the original creators’ artistic vision.

The Dallas Opera scores on all three points in its latest production. Sunday afternoon’s performance in the Winspear Opera House was unusually consistent in the strength of its vocalists while pleasing the eye and maintaining emotional intensity.

Baritone Paolo Gavanelli sang with forceful eloquence in the title role, slightly underplaying the character’s nastiness (and physical handicap) and making his final pain the more touching.

Soprano Laura Claycomb, who’s been around Dallas for years but is only now making her debut here, was a superb Gilda both vocally and dramatically. Her interactions with Gavanelli were some of the performance’s high points.

Down a bit from this level was tenor James Valenti as the Duke of Mantua. He’s a decent singer but seemed a little bland Sunday afternoon. Physically, he is certainly appropriate; I think he’s the tallest tenor I have ever seen (they tend to be on the short side), with an athletic build.

Bass Raymond Aceto’s menacing Sparafucile and mezzo Kirstin Chavez’ sultry Maddalena were the leaders of a superb set of supporting singer/actors.

Conductor Pietro Rizzo — like Claycomb a former SMU student — led excellent, dramatically effective performances by the Dallas Opera orchestra and chorus.

Also dramatically effective was the work of Harry Silverstein, who kept interest high with to-the-point stage direction that avoided a sense of routine. There was one miscue: At one point Claycomb is sprawled out on a bench that is both too short and too narrow. She hangs over on several sides and it looks terribly awkward — not an adjective that’s usually applied to Gilda.

Michael Yeargan’s clever set design makes use of telescoping elements that can bring the stage picture down to around 10-by-10-foot size or expand it to about the full dimension of the Winspear stage. Scenes ranging from elegant to shabby are backed by ominous clouds.

The late Peter J. Hall’s costumes are superb, as his designs always were.

Later this week Rigoletto will start alternating with Boris Godunov, which opens on Friday.

  • Dallas Morning News review (subs. req.)

photos by Michael L. Haynes