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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 30, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 13
Musica a Palazzo presents memorable Rigoletto in Venice, Italy
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Musica a Palazzo presents memorable Rigoletto in Venice, Italy

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

RIGOLETTO
BY GIUSEPPE VERDE
MUSICA A PALAZZO
PALAZZO BARBARIGO-MINOTTO
VENICE, ITALY
March 23


Venice is world renowned not only for its waterways, gondolas, and Carnival, but for its fabulous opera house, La Fenice (The Phoenix) where Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Stravinsky, and Britten premiered some of their greatest works. La Fenice was the first theater where ordinary folk like you and I could buy a ticket to see an opera. Before that, operas were performed for the nobility in their private palaces. I happen to be in Venice this week and hoped to see an opera, but unfortunately there are no performances at La Fenice scheduled during my stay. I have to content myself with taking photos on La Fenices steps and a tour of its legendary interior.

Luckily for me, however, Venice is never without opera thanks to a small but highly professional group called Musica a Palazzo (MAP) who present chamber versions of great operas in the Palazzo Barbarigo, one of the fabled palazzi on the Grand Canal. This season MAP is presenting La Traviata, Il Barbiere di Seviglia, and Rigoletto in rotation every night of the week, and I was free on Friday to see one of my favorite operas, Rigoletto. It was performed by a small but mighty chamber group - violin, viola, cello, and piano - and five professional opera singers. The absence of a chorus is made up by a clever arrangement in which the piano and violin assume the choral lines and an unobtrusive adjustment to the libretto preserves the narrative. Since Rigoletto is an opera that progresses through a series of arias, duets, trios and the famous Rigoletto Quartet - all of which were present in full - the opera was complete even with chamber-sized musical forces. A talented cast was able to sing full-out thanks to the twenty-foot ceilings of Palazzo Barbarigo that permitted the small audience (thirty people on my night) to be in close quarters with the singers without having their eardrums broken. The intimacy of the performance - that moved through three of the elaborately painted and plastered palazzo rooms - was one of the great charms of the performance.

Another great charm was how beautifully Anthony Knights costumes matched the 17th century interiors. Rigoletto, played with emotional intensity and vocal authority by Andrea Zese, was dressed in the jesters traditional cap and bells, with streamers of colorful fabrics falling from his shoulders. Gilda, sung by the beautiful Natalia Roman, wore a ruffled peasant blouse that transformed into a shift at the ducal palace - modest, but suggestive of the tragedy that has just occurred.

My favorite singer of the evening, along with Zese and Roman, was Paolo Bergo who did double duty as Monterone and Sparafucile - at once the man who places a curse on Rigoletto and the man who enacts the curse by murdering Rigolettos daughter instead of the Duke who raped her. That Duke, played by the powerful tenor Orfeo Zanetti, has the best arias and the least subtlety - a role that requires great singing and very little acting. Verdi went to a lot of trouble to conceal the melody of La donna e mobile before the premiere because he knew that every organ grinder in Italy would steal it the moment it was heard in La Fenice in 1851.

Rigoletto has lost none of its dramatic intensity or musical delights since that time. Seeing this great work in an intimate setting, surrounded by elaborate ornaments, paintings, frescoes and candlelight in massively impressive rooms, was one of the most memorable operatic experiences Ive ever had - and Ive had a lot. For the price of a very reasonable ticket (¬90 euros) the opera-goer has the rare privilege of sitting beside and among the singers and musicians, of seeing the inside of a 17th century palazzo on the Grand Canal that is not otherwise open to the public, and even being served complimentary champagne at intermission. For ¬5 euros you can buy a libretto and history of the palazzo and its art (including a Tintoretto) in any of four languages.

If you find yourself in Venice, no matter what day of the week, there is an opera for you to see at Musica a Palazzo: Rigoletto on Fridays, Il Barbiere di Seviglia on Wednesdays and Sundays, and La Traviata on all the other days. Its not a consolation prize for missing out on La Fenice - its a little jewel of a prize presented in a very grand palazzo, just like opera was seen by the nobility of old. Put Musica a Palazzo in Venice on your list of things to do - youll never forget it.

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