Geneva Anderson digs into art

Bravo! Rigoletto’s “B team” delivered a fabulous Saturday night performance at San Francisco Opera’s big weekend

In Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” Gilda (Uzbeki coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova) is tragically in love with the Duke of Mantua (Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz). Cory Weaver Photo (cropped).

There’s always something magical about opening of San Francisco Opera’s fall season.  I wasn’t there for Friday’s festive gala celebration but I was there Saturday evening for Verdi’s  Rigoletto sung by the alternate cast—Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto; Uzbeki soprano Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as the Duke of Mantua—with SF Opera’s Verdi demon, Nicola Luisotti, conducting.  The performance, sans the partying, was wonderful, opening what promises to be a very interesting and musically diverse fall season for SF Opera.  Given that 2013 is the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth and opera companies the world over are mounting Verdi productions, the popular opera, under Harry Silverstein’s direction, is the perfect season opener for SF Opera.

Rigoletto will be performed 12 times, with two distinct casts of world-class lead singers to accommodate its compressed scheduling.  SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti will conduct all but the September 25th and 30th performances which will be handled by Giuseppe Finzi.  (Serbian baritone Željko Lucic (Rigoletto), Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda) and Italian tenor Francesco Demuro (Duke of Mantua) led off on Friday evening to favorable reviews.)  I’ll be reviewing both casts.

Saturday evening’s singing got better and better as evening progressed, especially from coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova who is back after her mesmerizing bravura debut this at SF Opera as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.  In June, the house loved her and got so excited after her lively Act 2, Scene 3 aria (“Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) they gave her a roaring and prolonged standing ovation.  Saturday was no different; her Act I, Scene 2 duet “Addio Addio” (“Farewell, farewell”) was a little tight.  When she got to the beloved recitativo and aria, “Gaultier Maldé!…Caro nome, ” she sung on her back, confidently flaunting her powerful voice.  By Act 2, when it came time for her “Tutte le feste al tempio” (“On All the Blessed Days”) I floated.  By Act 3’s famous quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Beautiful daughter of love”), she was unstoppable, lyrically melding with the other singers in a stunningly beautiful display of everything that opera should be.  While Russians don’t have a monopoly on suffering, they do it so well.  Throughout, her acting was superb.

The rich, deep, and immediately recognizable voice of bass Andrea Silvestrelli as Sparafucile—the cunning assassin who Rigoletto pays to murder the Duke of Mantua—was also a standout among Saturday’s strong cast.  He’s performed the role in L.A., Chicago and Houston and seems a perfect fit.  Silvestrelli was Hagen in SF Opera’s epic 2011 Ring Cycle Götterdämmerung and Fasolt, the overall-clad giant, in Das Rheingold.

Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, a former Merola fellow, as the Duke of Mantua and mezzo soprano Kendall Gladen as Maddalena.  rounded out the cast.

Vratogna last sang as Amonasro in SF Opera’s 2010 Aida.  His bold Act I, Scene 2 aria, “Pari siamo!” (“We Are Alike”), where he admits that his tongue is just as much as weapon as the Sparafucile’s dagger, was sung passionately.  His fine acting skills drove home the character’s sorrow and torment in his dramatic Act II aria, Cortigiani vil razza dannata” (“Accursed race of courtiers”)

The handsome Mexican lyrical tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz embodied the Duke of Mantua better than any tenor I’ve seen, playing the boastful and cavorting cad to the hilt.  It helped that he’s a young 35, relatively buff, and exuded chemistry with both Gilda and Maddalena.  His character sings some of opera’s best-known melodies too, so he’s tremendously important.  His voice was particularly well-suited to the famous quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Beautiful daughter of love”).  Chacón-Cruz actually started out as a baritone (and bass) but became a toner after Plácido Domingo told him that he, too, started out as baritone and then switched to tenor.

Rigoletto, 2012. San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nicola Luisotti. 1) Arturo Chacón-Cruz as The Duke of Mantua; 2) Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda and Arturo Chacón-Cruz; 3) Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto; 4) Marco Vratogna and Albina Shagimuratova; 5) Albina Shagimuratova; and 6) Arturo Chacón-Cruz.

Luisotti’s passionate conducting is a show in itself and Saturday was no exception.  At the end of the opera, just as after Rigoletto and Gilda’s heartbreaking duet, as Rigoletto wails that the curse has come to pass, Luisotti dramatically raised his arms and boldly summoned the curse to descend.

Italian baritone Marco Vratogna is Rigoletto and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz is The Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” which opens San Francisco Opera’s fall season. Photo by Cory Weaver.

People seem to have a love-hate relationship with Tony Award winning designer Michael Yeargan’s sets which  evoke Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico in their boldly colored, deliberately skewed and disquieting scenes of 16th century Mantua’s streets, the Duke’s palace, Rigoletto’s house and Sparafucile’s inn.  In fact, this is the fourth time that Yeargan’s sets have been used by SF Opera since 1997 for this production.  It was my first time to see them but I found they made a profoundly metaphysical contribution to the opera.  Chris Maravich’s beautiful lighting was certainly a factor. By contrast, Constance Hoffman’s predictable period costumes seemed to weigh it down.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Approximate running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including one intermission.

Casting by Date:

Rigoletto: Željko Lučić (9/7), (9/11), (9/15) (9/18), (9/21)

Marco Vratogna (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19), (9/23), (9/25),(9/30)

Gilda: Aleksandra Kurzak (9/7), (9/11), (9/15), (9/18), (9/21), (9/25)

Albina Shagimuratova (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19), (9/23), (9/30)

 The Duke of Mantua: Francesco Demuro (9/7), (9/11), (9/15), (9/18), (9/21), (9/23),(9/25), (9/30)

Arturo Chacón-Cruz (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19)

ConductorNicola Luisotti , Giuseppe Finzi (9/25), (9/30)

Director Harry Silverstein

Set DesignerMichael Yeargan

Costume Designer Constance Hoffman

Lighting Designer Chris Maravich

Chorus Director Ian Robertson

Choreographer Lawrence Pech

Details:  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.  Remaining Performances: Sept.11 (8 p.m.), Sept. 12 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 15 (8 p.m.), Sept.16 (2 p.m.), Sept. 18 (8 p.m.), Sept. 19 (7:30 p.m.), Sept.21 (8 p.m.), Sept. 23 (2 p.m.), Sept. 25 (7:30 p.m.) and Sept. 30 (2 p.m.). Tickets: :  $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or online at   Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

The Sept. 15 performance will be simulcast in a free event at AT&T Park; go to  to register.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking:  Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends.   Recommended garages near the opera house are the Performing Arts Garage and Civic Center Garage (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment