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‘Rigoletto’ gets new setting

Fri., Sept. 13, 2013, midnight

Mark Walters, center, will play the title role in the Opera Coeur d’Alene’s production of “Rigoletto” at Schuler Performing Arts Center. (Kathy Plonka)
Mark Walters, center, will play the title role in the Opera Coeur d’Alene’s production of “Rigoletto” at Schuler Performing Arts Center. (Kathy Plonka)

Opera Coeur d’Alene gives Verdi’s work a timeless twist by placing it in the future

Guiseppe Verdi set “Rigoletto” in 16th-century Mantua. While Opera Coeur d’Alene is keeping the northern Italian city as the backdrop, its weekend production of the classic, three-act tragedy takes place at some undefined point in the future.

“It’s not like ‘Star Trek,’ “ said artistic director Aaron St. Clair Nicholson. “We’re using different techniques to create familiarity.”

But, he said, the audience “will be thrown off.”

The time-setting twist on the popular opera, staged in honor of the upcoming 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth Oct. 10, runs tonight and Sunday at the Schuler Performing Arts Center on the North Idaho College campus.

Originally titled “The Curse” and based on a play by Victor Hugo, “Rigoletto” – sung in Italian with English supertitles – is a story of lust and seduction, fury and revenge. It features one of the best-known arias in all of opera: “La donna è mobile,” or “The woman is fickle.” And this futuristic version also does away with some of the staples of a more traditional production’s costume closet.

“We don’t have to wear mushroom pants,” Nicholson said. “We don’t have to wear tulle collars.”

That isn’t the only aspect Nicholson said sets this incarnation of “Rigoletto” apart from other productions: “The cast is standout. They are incredible and wholly inhabit their roles. I am biased, but I used to sit in rehearsals and pinch myself.”

American baritone Mark Walters, who sang the title role of the same opera with the Florida Grand Opera last year, will again perform the part of the hunchbacked jester, a corrupt clown who hires an assassin to kill his boss, the Duke of Mantua.

Cuban-born tenor Raúl Melo, a frequent guest on “A Prairie Home Companion,” is the duke. Local soprano Dawn Wolski, is Gilda, Rigoletto’s lovely and pure-hearted daughter, whom he keeps under lock and key.

Despite basically being a prisoner in her father’s home, the jester’s daughter manages to meet the duke. They fall in love, and she sacrifices herself to save him from the killer hired by her misguided, unlikeable, selfish and over-protective dad.

Completing the “rock-star” cast are local bass-baritone Derrick Parker, who sings the part of Sparafucile, hired to off the duke, and mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock, who sings the role of Maddalena, the assassin’s beautiful sister.

As far as operas go, “This is as big as it gets,” Nicholson said. “The end is as tragic as it gets. It fits the bill for honoring Verdi and his bicentennial.”

It’s also accessible.

“The protagonist is low middle-class or servant class, so it’s not something that’s untouchable,” Nicholson said. “It’s not something that’s beyond our own lives. A working man could relate to his dilemma, which is he is a slave to a horrible, horrible boss, and it brings out the worst in him.”

“Rigoletto” is Nicholson’s third production with Opera Coeur d’Alene, which he’s hoping to eventually grow into a destination summer opera festival. Meantime, Florida Grand Opera resident conductor Andrew Bisantz leads an orchestra of musicians from around North Idaho and Eastern Washington in this two-day production, which cost about $80,000 to produce, Nicholson said. It also features a men’s chorus and dancers from Ballet Coeur d’Alene.

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