By Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald
In the best theatrical tradition, the last-minute replacement for the leading female role in "Rigoletto" had a triumph on opening night.
In Thursday's performance by the Portland Opera Repertory Theater at Merrill Auditorium, Cheryl Parrish sang the role of Gilda when soprano Madeline Bender was taken ill. After a tentative start in the first duet with her father, Rigoletto, it would have been hard to improve on her interpretation.
Fortunately, Parrish was fresh from singing Gilda with the Vancouver Opera Company, and there were no glitches resulting from the lack of rehearsal time. Malcolm Smith, who filled in for Henry Runey as the assassin Sparafucile, was equally good as both singer and actor. Sparafucile is a mirror image of Rigoletto, a menacing presence who is also a buffoon, as he and his sister agree to kill the first person who comes through the door, rather than the handsome Duke.
It took a strong cast to stand up to Mark Rucker's marvelous portrayal of Rigoletto. Rucker not only has a commanding voice and presence - perhaps a little too strong for a despised court jester - but also the kind of believability necessary to make the final scene as tragic as Verdi intended.
Gerard Powers was well cast as the womanizing Duke of Mantua, who shrugs off enraged fathers and assassins as if he were coated with Teflon, all the while warbling "La donna e mobile." He and a fine orchestra under Conductor Bruce Hangen made the most of the tune, Verdi's first top-10 hit.
The current production of "Rigoletto" is lavish, with a huge set of the Duke's palace, which took a considerable amount of time to convert to Rigoletto's home or Sparafucile's tavern. .The elaborate costumes, in Renaissance style, help a great deal in characterizing and identifying the characters, down to the minor courtiers, and the crowd action in the abduction scene and the opening minuet at court is well choreographed.
"Rigoletto" is difficult to cast because even the minor characters, such as Monterone, who curses Rigoletto, have important singing roles. This is especially true of Sparafucile's sister, Maddalena (Revekah Mavrovitis), who must bold her own with Rigoletto, Gilda and her brother in the famous third-act quartet. All lived up to the high standards of the leading roles.
The English supertitles were also much better than average, understandable and understated, with just enough information to advance the action. Often the screen stayed blessedly blank as the music took over.
"Rigoletto" will be performed again tonight, and once more Monday, with Monica Harte as Gilda. If you can't get to the Met this season, this is the next best thing.
This story ran on page 4B of the Portland Press Herald on 07/29/00. © 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.