Viewed as a welcome instance of corporate and city cooperation, the New York Grand Opera's performance on Wednesday night of Verdi's "Rigoletto" was a heartening event.
Vincent La Selva, the artistic director of the company, has been presenting free outdoor operas in Central Park for 25 years, and with this "Rigoletto," the scrappy company is more than halfway through its seven-year survey of all 28 Verdi operas in chronological order. Despite the oppressive humidity and the distractions of a corporate challenge run that closed some park entrances, a capacity audience of more than 10,000 turned up, including the city's most public opera fan, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who gave a welcoming speech and stayed for the entire performance, and the renowned soprano Licia Albanese, 85 as of last week and a loyal supporter of La Selva and his company.But viewed as a musical event, the production was another instance of earnest effort, genuine talent and ineptitude. The major problem remains the sound system at Summerstage, which is better suited to pop, folk, dance and other typically amplified types of music that are offered there. Buzzing, ringing and woofy distortion in the overhead speakers made it difficult to evaluate the singers.
The title role of the hunch-backed jester in the court of the womanizing Duke of Mantua was sung by Raemond Martin, an American baritone who began in the Young Artists Studio of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Martin has a pleasant lyric voice, fairly rich in its low range, but thinner in its top notes. It was a carefully sung, and mostly sympathetic, portrayal, but Martin did not reveal the depths and torment of this character, driven to keep his only child, a grown daughter, Gilda, under lock and key.
Antonio Buonauro, an Italian tenor, made a dashing duke, but his essentially bright lyric tenor voice was sometimes unsteady and tight, especially in his high range.
Yoko Ojima, a Japanese-born soprano who sang Gilda, must have been gratified by her ovation from the audience. But vocally, she seemed not up to the role. Her singing was wobbly, frequently off-pitch, rhythmically lax and expressively neutral.
Anne Daniels as Gilda's nurse, Giovanna, Del-Bourree Bach as the hired killer Sparafucile, and Alexandra Newland as the killer's sister, Maddalena, completed the cast.
La Selva and his orchestra players, as usual, deserve much credit for putting this opera across. The conductor has a palpable understanding of Verdi's style, and given the challenges of the occasion, shaped the score with musicianly skill. For all the pleasure this people's maestro has provided to New York opera lovers, he must get frustrated having to perform in such impossible conditions. But he brings them on himself with this ambitious "Viva Verdi" festival.
Next Wednesday night, it's on to "Il Trovatore," the last offering of this summer's season.