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Review: Opera Colorado opens season with a riveting Rigoletto

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Rigoletto

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At last, on March 15 after nearly a year’s absence, Opera Colorado opened its 2014 season and gave its hungry audience a feast for the senses: Rigoletto served up on a silver platter at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. It was well worth the wait.

Like travelers refreshed from vacation, the cast came on stage opening night ready to go to work. Under the direction of Bernard Uzan, they performed Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic masterpiece flawlessly — in sync, on cue and with the best voices for the task.

World-renowned star Gordon Hawkins makes his Opera Colorado debut playing the hunchback court jester Rigoletto, a role he has performed most often during his long career. The hefty former athlete who is well over six feet tall strikes an imposing presence on stage, and his rich, silky baritone and dramatic interpretation of the role he knows so well are an absolute pleasure to hear and watch.

Playing his daughter Gilda, a demanding role for a coloratura soprano, 32-year-old Rachele Gilmore—also new to the company—doesn’t disappoint, effortlessly reaching for the stars in the high notes of the aria “Caro Nome.” Her sweet duets with Hawkins are pure heaven.

Rene Barbera plays the Duke who gets to sing one of the most well-known arias in Italian opera, “La Donna e mobile” in the third act. He sings it just right, with a cavalier attitude and lively voice. Barbera also makes his Opera Colorado debut.

Uzan wisely chose a traditional set for this piece. The lavish 15th century palace of the Duke in Mantua, Italy morphs into a dark streetscape and then to the shabby home of the assassin Sparafucile for the final act. The lighting grows darker as the plot becomes thicker.

There is nothing joyful about this story. Women are treated shabbily and husbands are put to death. Rigoletto’s beloved daughter falls in love with the womanizing duke pretending to be someone else and foolishly gives up her life for him. Her death fulfills a curse laid on Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke and mocked by the jester.

Despite the dark plot, the singing makes it all worthwhile, and the opening night audience showed its appreciation with many bursts of clapping and lots of “bravos.”

Opera Colorado is in business again.

Two more performances of Rigoletto will be March 21 and 23. Carmen will be performed May 3, 6, 9 and 11, 2014. For tickets, call 303-468-2030 or visit www.operacolorado.org.

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