Gazette Story on Rigoletto by Jaci Webb

Rimrock Opera readies Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ for performances next weekend JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011 12:30 am

All is in place for the Rimrock Opera Company to stage another inspired production Oct. 8 and 9 at the Alberta Bair Theater. This time, it’s Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic “Rigoletto.”

West High sophomore Hunter Hash sat next to Rocky Mountain College vocal performance major Janie Rife during a recent rehearsal at a West End strip mall. Even though the performers were dressed in jeans and flip-flops, Hash and Rife were so caught up in baritone Robert Aaron Taylor’s gut-wrenching aria in the title role of the Duke’s jester, their jaws fell open. At 20, Rife is performing as Giovanna in “Rigoletto,” her seventh opera, and Hash is a new volunteer.

“I just love opera and the best way I can experience it is to work backstage,” Hash said.

It’s come to be a familiar experience within the Billings opera company. Newcomers are welcomed into the fold to help put on the complex productions and familiar performers and longtime volunteers are there to show them the way. Hash was so taken with last season’s performance of “Tosca,” he signed on as a backstage volunteer, even though he said his voice “croaks” when he sings.

Singing in the role of the tortured father with the sharp tongue, Taylor is striking, with rich tones and control even though he collapses weeping during his aria.

Taylor, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., has appeared in several Rimrock Opera productions including the title role in “Gianni Schicchi.” Other lead vocalists in the production are also familiar to Billings audiences including tenor Jeffrey Grant Kitto, who plays the Duke of Mantua, soprano Lisa Lombardy, who is Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, and mezzo soprano Michelle Berger, who plays Maddalena.

Kitto said his challenge is to sing stunning melodies but still come across as the hateful womanizing Duke.

“The music is so beautiful, it’s hard to hate him,” Kitto said. “I’m working on facial expressions to convey his evil side.” Kitto, of Bozeman, has appeared in several Rimrock Opera productions, including the role of Cavaradossi in “Tosca.”

Lombardy, of Billings, has performed in three previous ROC’s operas, including her role as Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.” Berger is a Billings native who has performed in previous Rimrock Opera productions. Andy Anderson returns as conductor and Matthew Haney as stage director. Douglas Nagel is the opera’s producer.

“Rigoletto” is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire and it ranks 10th among the most-performed operas worldwide because of its gorgeous orchestration and melodies. Yet in Verdi’s time, the story was considered so scandalous that the project was almost halted in 1850 while rumors raged that a production would not be allowed in Venice. Yet, in 1851, the opera triumphed. Legend has it that within minutes of its opening, gondoliers working the Venice canals were already humming the Duke’s aria.

Based on a play by Victor Hugo, which was banned in France for 30 years, “Rigoletto” tells the story of a hunchback court jester who believes he is cursed. He mocks the husbands of the ladies the Duke pays attention to and advises the Duke to dispose of them by sending them to prison or death. His advice backfires and Rigoletto is crushed by the threat of the curse. His beloved daughter Gilda, who he hides from the world, falls for the Duke and sacrifices her life for his.

“The curse!” he moans as Gilda dies in his arms.

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CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff Robert Aaron Taylor sings the role of Rigoletto and Lisa Lombardy performs as Gilda in Rimrock Opera’s production of “Rigoletto.” 4e850b76ee73e_image Rimrock Opera’s Jeffrey Grant Kitto, left, performs as the Duke of Mantua while Robert Aaron Taylor performs as the Duke’s jester, Rigoletto. 4e850b78b7134_image “Rigoletto” cast members include, from left: Robert Aaron Taylor, as Rigoletto; Lisa Lombardy, as Gilda; Michelle Berger, as Maddalena; and Jeffrey Grant Kitto as the Duke of Mantua. Verdi’s legendary opera hits the Aberta Bair Theater boards on Oct. 8 and 9. 4e850b786fe07_image CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff Douglas Nagel, left, and Matthew Haney are the producer and director of Rimrock Opera’s staging of “Rigoletto.”