Re-imagined Setting of Verdi’s Classic Sure to be a Grand Finale
By George B. Parous
Resonance Works is closing its present season next weekend with an opera, and for anyone who has seen this company put on an opera, that’s good news, because they really know how to do a first class production when they set their minds to it. Their staging of Verdi’s Falstaff, a few years back, was a well-sung and amusing delight. Their production of Dvorák’s Rusalka was a genuine thrill. They made the best of limited staging at the Charity Randall Theater in the past, but are moving this production of Rigoletto to the Carnegie Music Hall (in Carnegie), where they’ll have more performance-friendly room to stretch their wings, and the results are sure to be amazing. Behind it all is the energetic Maria Sensi Sellner, founder of Resonance Works, as well as its Artistic Director, General Director – and Conductor. She recently took time out from her busy rehearsal and hat-juggling schedules to share a few words on the season’s closing production, as well as grab a singer or two, and the stage director as well, for some reflections on their parts in Rigoletto.
“We have a top notch cast of incredible singers and actors,” Maria said, “and it’s been practically euphoric for me, being in the rehearsal room with them these past few days. Maria Brea is a major talent destined for an international career, and we are privileged to present her role debut as Gilda. Andrew Cummings’ Rigoletto is the total package – powerful, emotional singing, and acting that are terrifyingly intense one moment and heartbreakingly vulnerable the next. The two of them have quickly created a beautiful ‘father-daughter’ connection, and every scene they’re in is a highlight – and thanks to Verdi, there are a lot of highlights!
“Of course, the rest of the cast are all lead-worthy artists, who are bringing an incredible depth of talent and experience to the production. Tenor Jeremy Brauner, who will sing the Duke of Mantua, was a 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council regional finalist. And we have the versatile veterans, Robert Frankenberry as Borsa, Patrick McNally as Marullo, plus up-and-comer Powell Brumm as Ceprano. They make a particularly strong trio of ‘cortigiani,’ or courtiers. Timothi Williams, who will be our Maddalena, is a Metropolitan Opera National Council Pittsburgh District winner and she’s faculty at Slippery Rock University. Columbian bass Sergio Martinez, our Sparafucile, comes to us from the Artist Diploma program at Yale, and heads to the Glimmerglass Festival this summer. Graham Fandrei, our Monterone, has a performing career that spans continents and ranges from opera and concert work to Broadway. He’s also the new Director of Programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.”
When the subject of the opera’s reimagining came up, she turned the topic over to Stage Director Mo Zhou.
“By setting this production in the 1930’s Golden Age of Hollywood,” Ms. Zhou stated, “I wanted to use the studio system of that gilded era to reflect how the ‘machine’, created by privileged men, consumed women as if they were disposable goods. Throughout the show, I see a repeated pattern of men exploiting women for their own success, from the Duke assaulting the showgirls to Sparafucile controlling his sister, Maddalena. This context helped me to understand and connect with Rigoletto’s obsession with keeping Gilda out of the corrupted world he must endure. However, despite being exercised in the name of love, such extreme and possessive control has significantly damaged Gilda, a young and emotionally underdeveloped girl. In an almost karmic way, we see ourselves in each character’s struggle in this twisted and abusive ‘Truman Show’-like world.”
Two singers available for a few words were baritone Andrew Cummings, who will sing the title role, and soprano Maria Brea, who will be Gilda, Rigoletto’s beloved daughter.
“Great scores are like worlds within themselves,” Mr. Cummings shared, “with so much to explore and discover, no matter whether it’s the first time you’ve done the piece, or the 20th. This is my fourth production as Rigoletto, and he’s one of my favorites, without question. He’s beautiful and he’s pathetic. He’s a fool and yet he’s principled and driven by love. He feels deeply and with great nuance and yet stumbles carelessly on his own heartless words and steps. He’s deeply human, and as a father who has lost his best friend and the mother of his child, I ‘feel’ him deeply and personally.”
“There are several reasons why Gilda is an incredibly complex character,” Ms. Brea said. “Vocally, this role navigates every single technical aspect of the human voice, with trills, acciaccaturas, cadenzas, etc. In terms of style, there is so much in the way of nuance and depth in Verdi’s, that one can spend a whole session on one page of one of his scores, and still feel like there is something new you can discover on that page the next day. In terms of character she takes you on a journey. Really gruesome things happen to Gilda, so that it’s impossible not to feel upset and uncomfortable as you read the libretto. I can’t wait to approach this piece with respect and appreciation.”
For those who’ve become hooked on streaming shows, Resonance Works, since yesterday, has been hosting the streaming world premiere of L’assassino, a “hip-hopera” creation by composer and performing artist K.F. Jacques. A prequel to the Rigoletto story, L’assassino explores the dark beginnings of the assassin Sparafucile through Jacques’ unique fusion of hip-hop and opera.
It’s safe to predict that Resonance Works will make good on their promise of an exciting show. There are two performances only, May 20 at 8:00 and May 22 at 3:00. For tickets, additional cast photos, access to the streaming of L’assassino and more, visit Resonance Works.