Rigoletto and Gilda, #1

Opera companies today often present a mix of different genres and themes.

After presenting a program about women composers with a small scale of four singers, a trio of players and a handful of dancers and focusing on art songs, Bel Cantanti is presenting a fully staged opera. And it is one of the more dramatic (and tragic) works at that.

It is “Rigoletto,” an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on a play by French writer Victor Hugo. It premiered in 1851.

Since the previous title of the opera was “The Curse,” you can imagine the ending is not happy.

The Rigoletto of the title is a hunch-backed jester, who serves the promiscuous Duke of Mantua, infatuated with Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter, Gilda. The original title refers to a curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter the Duke has seduced with Rigoletto’s encouragement. It comes to fruition when Gilda, the daughter, falls in love with the Duke.

“‘Rigoletto’ was the second opera we ever performed, and that was 16 years ago,” Artistic Director Katerina Souvorova said. “We have a lot of good memories from it.”

In the title role is Gustavo Feulien, who will be performing his first role with Bel Cantanti.

“I’ve sung this role just in concert versions years ago,” said the Argentine singer. “For this role, it is very important to have a more mature voice, stage and life experience.”

Feulien called this character one of the richest to perform and sing. “His job is to act and make people laugh inside of a tragic story. Hidden are all his insecurities and fears,” he said.

Vocally, the challenge is the dramatic intensity of the opera and the fact that once he is on stage, he sings almost every scene, he added.

“Rigoletto” is an opera that has been transferred to other times and places, including a production with a Mafia theme and one set in Las Vegas. But, according to Souvorova, Bel Cantanti is “less inventive. We are kind of all just about the music. We have a traditional reading of the opera.”

“The company has tried an updated version of operatic works, and it has never worked for us,” she explained. “Our company is purist; to do the music for the sake of the music.”

Souvorova said there are little to no concerns about the opera not grabbing the audience’s attention since the genius of Hugo and Verdi makes for “bottomless human emotion that can never be boring.”

A father is almost obsessively devoted to his daughter, who sacrifices herself for love. With a little condemnation of authority: the opera faced censors because of its criticism of a ruler.

“For me, what makes ‘Rigoletto’ a masterpiece is Verdi’s passionate music and the story that is both accessible and psychologically complex,” said Feulien.

The character of Rigoletto is astute and cynical, able to flatter his boss trying to please him but also hateful and nasty to the courtiers who will have an impact on his fate, Feulien added.

“He is always out of line with his jokes. He is a widower and keeps his young daughter Gilda locked up at home because he fears that she will be perverted by someone at court, like him,” he said. “The character has a great range to play as an actor; he is a clown but also a loving father.”

The Duke is sung by Jeoungwook Han. Souvorova is also the opera’s producer; Catrin Davies is stage director and Ksenia Litvak is set and costume designer.

Rigoletto is performed in Italian with English supertitles. It is in costume and accompanied by the Bel Cantanti Orchestra.

Performances are 3 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 20 and 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring, and at 8 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown.

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