Special to Town Times by Larry Kellum

Verdi’s dark, but ever so beloved “Rigoletto” closed the CT Lyric Opera/CT Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra’s 2015-16 season on April 22 when it premiered at New Britain’s Trinity-on-Main. The production will also appear on May 1 at Hartford’s Infinity Hall and culminate at MHS Arts Center in Middletown on May 14. To paraphrase the Frankie Valle song “Oh, what a night,” What a night it was, the best thing this company has done since its memorable “Madame Butterfly” two years ago!

Maestro Adrian Sylveen tends to like his Verdi and Puccini on the loud side (as does this reviewer also) and more often saves his “refinement” for his Mozart and chamber music. When he unleashes his forces, the tsunami of sound can sometimes drown out his soloists unless they are Jurassic Park denizens like Jimi James (title role), Andrew Potter (Sparafucile) and Daniel Juarez (the Duke). Then, some really exciting music sets the house ablaze! In a word, James was simply galvanizing as the tormented jester, a real throwback to the baritone glory days of Milnes, Merrill and MacNeil, and evoked all the compassion without (for a change!) the unnecessary hunchback costume. The Duke was resident tenor Daniel Juarez’ first assumption of a major Verdi role and he sailed right through it and the famous “La donne e mobile” with lilt and an easy top. Bass Andrew Potter … 6’10” in his hooded black cape… was even creepier than his recent Mephistopheles here last month! Steven Fredericks was deluxe casting as the old Monterone. A magical moment that so rarely happens in theater occurred in the suspenseful, powerful “murder” Trio between Gilda, the bass and his sister Maddalena (mezzo Kerry Gotschall). As the musical thunderstorm was brewing in the pit, the real sky opened up outside the building, and with two storms going at once, the impact was overwhelming! A “hit the rewind button” moment!

The great dramatic soprano Zinka Milanov once concertized and recorded just Act 4 of this opera with Toscanini, proving that the part of the teenage Gilda (minus the florid aria “Care Nome”) was never composed for all the light canary coloraturas that have tried to take over the role (unsuccessfully most of the time) in between the legendary diva and the equally large-voiced Sutherland two decades later. Gilda is not a heroic character, but Milanov attested that the last half of the opera was just as comfortable for her voice as all the other heavier Verdi heroines she was better known for. That said, all eyebrows initially raised over a soprano with things like Senta and Tosca under belt now doing Gilda quickly relaxed when CLO resident soprano Jurate Svedaite soared to the rafters with her gorgeous spinto sound. As for that “Care Nome”, nearly every Verdi heroine requires technique and agility, and she sang it as originally composed…..like a daydream, and minus the unwritten high notes.

For tickets and more info on the remaining two performances, please visit ctlyricopera.org or thevirtuosi.org. TREAT YOURSELVES!