"Rigoletto" to open Opera in Williamsburg season

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

You'll hear a certain rhythm throughout the music of Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto."

Isabel Milenski, director of the Opera in Williamsburg production, recently realized something about "Verdi's oom-pah-pah," as she calls it.

"You know what it is?" she said, following a rehearsal at Kimball Theatre.

"It's the heartbeat."

There's realness, a rawness, within "Rigoletto" that the Opera in Williamsburg production explores.

"There's kind of a really visceral experience to this particular music that I think will be a very powerful experience," Milenski said. "You're kind of more aware of your own heart beating as you watch a piece like this, because Verdi's that good."

With performances Oct. 21 and 23 at Kimball Theatre, "Rigoletto" opens Opera in Williamsburg's fifth year of bringing world-class talent to Williamsburg in intimate renditions of opera classics.

And "Rigoletto" personifies the opera classic. Even if unfamiliar with the dramatic tale — centering on the womanizing Duke of Mantua, his jester Rigoletto and Rigoletto's daughter Gilda —audiences will likely recognize Verdi's melodies.

"Whenever people think of opera arias, a lot of these tunes in 'Rigoletto' are the first tunes that people think of," Eric Barry said. "They're synonymous with opera for a lot of people."

As the Duke of Mantua, Barry, a tenor, sings perhaps one of the most recognizable tunes in the production, "La donna é mobile."

Opera in Williamsburg founder and producer Naama Zahavi-Ely believes the opera almost instantly relatable. Whether you've seen 10 operas, or none. Whether you possess extensive operatic knowledge, or a little.

The genius of Verdi's music, she said, lies in its seeming simplicity.

"To take melodies which are so simple — I mean, they're simple, they're what grabs you — and use them effectively in the plot, that takes genius," Zahavi-Ely said. "What you have here is a genius of a composer taking things that seem very simple and creating with them something that's really powerful and really sophisticated."

Barry believes the oom-pah-pah to be part of Verdi's genius.

"He can layer it in a special way, where it's happy, joyful and full of excitement, or it's just grim and dim and dark," he said. "His writing is genius in that way, because the skeletons are the same, he just adds a little different spice here and there to create this complete different palette of sounds."

It's a tragic tale filled with corruption, power and violence, Milenski described, but "Rigoletto" is not a tale without humor, humanity or love.

It feels very real, a feeling heightened by Opera in Williamsburg's modernization and more minimal staging of the production.

"These (characters) really feel like real people," Milenski said, "and that is rare that we have that kind of experience in opera, where we really just think 'Oh my god, this is really happening right now.'"

New York-based performer Kyle Pfortmiller has pushed himself to dark, emotional depths in the role of Rigoletto, a character he said "shows us humanity at its base."

"To be allowed that freedom to play with those emotions is really incredible," he said.

This depth of emotion, like much of the opera's power, is both heightened by and rooted in Verdi's music.

"If you simply sing the phrases, the emotion is evident," Pfortmiller said. "That's really the beauty, for me, of Verdi is that if you get out of the way and you simply are in the moment emotionally and in your thought world, and you're listening to the other characters, the music itself will carry you and will carry the emotion."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Want to go?

When: 8 p.m., Oct. 21; 2 p.m., Oct. 23

Where: Kimball Theatre, 424 W. Duke of Gloucester St.

Tickets: $45/general, $40/discount, $15/students, available at operainwilliamsburg.org or at the Kimball Theatre box office, 1-800-447-8679.

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