Friday night David and I saw a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto at Chicago Lyric Opera. The first performance of this opera that I saw was in Battle Creek, Michigan, at the Kellogg Auditorium when I was in high school. A touring company, the San Carlo Opera Company, presented it, and as Managing Editor of the high school paper, the Central Key, I reviewed it.
'The San Carlo Opera Company was a touring grand opera company founded by the Italian-American impresario Fortune Gallo. Taking over management of a touring opera company led by Mario Lombardi that was stranded in St. Louis, Missouri in 1910, Gallo brought them back to New York City, untangled their finances, and reorganized them as the San Carlo Opera Company, opening in December 1913 with a premier performance featuring “Carmen”. Until its disbandment in the mid-1950s, the company - 100 strong, including 30 instrumentalists - toured annually in the United States and Canada, visiting cities and towns poorly served by other companies, and often ventured as far afield as Europe, and South America.' (from Wikipedia)
I even went backstage to talk to some of the singers. I don't remember a lot about the performance except that the Gilda was Jean Dickenson, 'Nightingale of the Airways'. She had her own radio program and at the end of 'Caro nome', interpolated a high 'e'!
Jean Dickenson (1913-2007)
Jean Dickenson was born December 13, 1913, in Montreal, Canada, to U.S. citizen parents. Her mother, May F. Dickenson, was a noted writer, and her father, an engineer, was a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia. As her father traveled abroad extensively in his profession, she lived in India and South Africa, as well as Canada and several places in the USA. Jean became a student at the Lamont School of Music of its founder, Florence Lamont Hinman, who took her to Mondsee near Vienna for a summer of intensive study while Mrs. Hinman was conducting classes there. She graduated from the University of Denver Lamont School of Music with honors.
In 1932 Jean won the Colorado Atwater Kent Radio Auditions, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain News. She got her professional start singing on KOA radio in Denver, and then she was employed as the soprano on CBS radio's weekly Hollywood Hotel, which featured host Dick Powell, singer Frances Langford, and guest celebrity stars. With the Denver Grand Opera Company, she sang Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in 1934, Violetta in La Traviata in 1935 and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor in 1939. With the Denver Post Opera Company she was Gilda in selections from Rigoletto in 1934 and Lucia in selections from Lucia di Lammermoor in 1935. Jean appeared with the San Carlo Opera Company in 1937 at the Denver Auditorium in the role of Gilda in Rigoletto. At age 26, coloratura soprano Dickenson, made her Metropolitan debut January 26, 1940 as Philine in Mignon, with Risë Stevens in the title role, and subsequently appeared with the company in five concerts. She became a protégé of the celebrated opera star, Lily Pons. She became a regular performer 1937-51 on the NBC radio program, American Album of Familiar Music. A favorite of radio audiences, she was know as the "Nightingale of the Airwaves." She appeared in concert with the Denver and Milwaukee symphony orchestras, the Promenade Symphony Concerts, and the Little Symphony of Montreal. Jean sang numerous concerts throughout the United States and Canada under the management of the National Concert and Artists Corporation of New York.
Jean Dickinson died January 26, 2007. She was survived by her husband, Daniel Edward Marcy Jr., whom she married in 1942, just prior to his being sent overseas in World War II. In their retirement years, Jean and Daniel lived in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Their daughter, Cc Marcy Dwyer, resides in Garrison, New York.
Jean Dickenson graciously corrected the earlier draft of this biography and provided the accompanying photographs. This charming anecdote was related in a letter from her: "In the third act of La Traviata, when Alfredo throws the money at Violetta, and she falls back on a sofa, I was wearing a beautiful big hoop skirt costume. Alfredo throws the money, I fall back on the hoop, it flies up, I vanish completely. Wow! A "show" I will never forget!"
(Colorado Opera Luminaries)
Friday's performance featured a cast of fine singers. Quinn Kelsey sang the title role with a large, resonant voice and convincing acting. Matthew Polenzani was excellent as the Duke of Mantua. Brilliant tenor voice that could also deliver a beautiful voix mixe. Gilda was sung by Rosa Feola. Lovely voice and well acted.
The story is a little hard to believe, but as Anna Russell said 'In opera you can do anything you want as long as you sing it!'
The set and staging didn't help much. As is normal at Lyric Opera, its small, old-fashioned stage doesn't permit fast scene changes, so you get one basic set that serves for all the scenes. A series of arches on either side of the stage was pretty much it.
Rigoletto's house slid in from stage left and was a bare two story, red room. It later appeared with some shutters added as Sparafucile's cafe.
As has always been the case the balance between the singers and the orchestra was excellent. However, Magdalena, sung by Zanda Svede, was hard to hear in the famous quartet. The conductor was Marco Armiliato.
Saturday night we saw Menotti's The Consul at Chicago Opera Theatre.
An evening of drama and great, lush singing by the entire cast!
Patricia Racette sang the very demanding part of Magda Sorel with rich, voluptuous sound. I first heard her in Vancouver a number of years ago in I forget what opera, but liked her singing very much at the time.
Victoria Livengood was the mother and was certainly the equal to Marie Powers who sang the role originally, only without Marie's enormous 'break' in the passaggio. It has been said that Menotti wrote the Mother's Lullaby with that in mind, jumping the octave down from middle 'a' to low 'a' in the first phrase, thereby avoiding the break. Whatever, it's a great aria!
Justin Ryan was John Sorel and sang fervently with a fine baritone voice. Cornell MacNeill sang the role in the original production.
The other members of the admirable cast were Audrey Babcock as the Secretary, Cedric Berry as the Secret Police, Kyle Knapp as the Magician, Vince Wallace as Mr. Kofner, Kimberly E. Jones as the Foreign Woman, Kira Dills-DeSurra as Vera Boronel, Zacharias Niedzwiecki as Assan, and Lani Stait as Anna Gomez. A whole cast of excellent voices!
The Studebaker Theatre, like the Lyric, has stage problems as far as creating scenery. Everything needs to be shifted by hand, requiring a large stage crew to do the work. Alan E. Murakoa was the scenic designer and did a good job considering his limitations. His idea of having the Secretary's desk mountainous was excellent.
Andreas Mitisek was the stage director. Everything seemed to work until the last scene of the opera, where, for some reason, Magda, attempting suicide, is surrounded by the rest of the cast carrying chairs which they attach to ropes that come down from the flies and are eventually lifted in the air. To Heaven?? One golden rope comes down to Magda, who is standing on a chair, which she grasps. Getting ready to hang herself?
In the original production, which I saw in 1950, she turns on the gas in the stove to commit suicide. The gas making her hallucinate the presence of the others. Also, as in the stage directions, the Secretary at the embassy is trying to phone her to tell her that John has returned. The phone rings,unanswered, as she dies. I think that is a much better ending.
Gian Carlo Menotti was a great dramatist as well as a great composer. Don't mess with his ideas!