Madison Opera's first production of this season is arguably its finest achievement to date. Rigoletto established Verdi's full maturity as an operatic master. A century and a half after its premiere in 1851 it is still a melodrama of irresistible power. Under the sure baton of John DeMain, and with Michael Scarola's imaginative and finely detailed direction, the opera came brilliantly to life. The staging idiomatically realized the plot's Renaissance setting. Allen Charles Klein's spacious, versatile sets, enhanced by Andrew Ostrowski's effective lighting, filled Overture Hall's wide stage with evocative splendor.
There is a special delight in the excellent and highly consistent cast that was assembled - devoid of the distraction of "star" personalities, but offering superb talent committed to an ensemble entity rather than self-serving display.
Singling out individual singers risks undue discrimination. Still, the most exciting performer was surely Stephen Costello as the Duke of Mantua. A tenor with a voice of ringing strength matched with intelligence and dramatic flair, he is already marked for great things. Not far behind him was soprano Megan Monaghan as the ill-fated Gilda, her high coloratura range supported by full-bodied tone. (Her cadenza in the role's showpiece, "Caro nome," was particularly stunning.)
If there might be any reservations, it would be over Guido LeBron in the title role. His baritone voice is handsome, if a bit light. Though he has a confident command of the part, his movements were a bit stiff and overly stereotypical. Above all, he could have made fuller differentiation, vocally and dramatically, between the outwardly repulsive and the underlying tender elements that make the jester's character so fascinating in its contradictions.
Verdi only rarely gives the orchestra special attention. Still, the overture was properly overwhelming, and the mix of wordless chorus and instruments to evoke a great storm in Act III successfully realized the composer's imaginative experiment.
For a small-city company, this is big-city opera!