CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Category — Rigoletto

Painted Red

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As the curtains drew open and fell into an elegant drape, they revealed vibrant colors and pure merriment that accompanied the mood introduced by the orchestra.  Watching the scene unfold was like watching a masterful painting reworking itself seamlessly and beautifully.  There was a feeling only the Metropolitan Opera could give a person, that they were transported somewhere completely different to enjoy an art of a different age.  I’ve never truly appreciated opera and have often fallen asleep during them.  The smooth movement and seemingly never-changing singing used to wear on my eyes and ears and draw me into a deep lull.  When I was young, I would be woken up with the sound of my aunt’s voice (a choreographer who took me to some shows and rehearsals); the night of Rigoletto, I was determinedly staying awake helped by the gentleman snoring loudly next to me.

Perhaps it was because I actually knew the plot of the opera that made it more interesting to see; knowing what’s going to happen allows one to be entranced by the costuming, set, music, and emotion.  From a vibrant set in Act I to the darker set of Acts II and III, a warm, burgundy material was prominent in the costumes of the Duke, Rigoletto, Gilda’s nurse Giovanna, and Countess Ceprano.  The color seemed to be symbolic of the curse and the pain the Duke causes; the Countess Ceprano is representative of the Duke’s disrespect for women, their significant others and relatives and Giovanna is representative of her inability to successfully care for her charge.  Rigoletto wears quite a bit of the burgundy in his jester outfit, but in the next scene where he meets Sparafucile, he only wears a small cape of the color.  As soon as he enters the house, it is removed and alternately placed around his daughter and himself.  Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but an interesting detail to explore.

Aside from the costuming, George Gagnidze’s portrayal of Rigoletto was so powerful and I was unaware of his illness during the performance.  The voice and acting of the Duke was quite commendable as well.  I was pleasantly surprised by Gilda’s piercing voice which by the end had an eerie but enjoyable ring.  I found Sparafucile’s voice to be the most impressive; it had power but sweetness to it that fit his cunning and vicious role in the play.

I stayed awake the whole opera, my eyes following the subtle movements of the dresses, then the exchange between father and daughter, and the final bit of the curse as the actors ran around the set; if only I could have heard the music without the accompaniment of deep inhales and exhales.  However, the grandeur and feeling provided by the orchestra, the set, the singing, the actors, and the entire production made it worthwhile.  The curtains were drawn down as gracefully as they were opened to mark the end of a picturesque production.

October 21, 2010   No Comments

Rigoletto

Opera has never amused me. For one thing, Italian is not a language which I particularly enjoy listening to.  Two, the overdose of dramatic irony always greatly irritates me. Thirdly, the three operas I had seen were in uncomfortable theaters with sound systems that were less than adequate for the deep, full-bodied voices of opera singers.

I walked into the Metropolitan Opera House with the same low expectations I had for the other operas I had seen. When the orchestra began warming up, I sighed, wishing I was at the New York Philharmonic instead, so I could hear the music without the distraction of loud, non-rhyming singing. I braced myself for three hours of frustration.

When the curtains opened, and with the first line of lyric, I thought that maybe, just maybe, this opera could be different from the others that I had seen. The set was breathtakingly realistic, with a sky that seemed to go on endlessly. The costumes were bright with richly colored fabrics, but managed to stay away from the gaudiness that many opera costumes have. Everyone’s voices were unified and, lo and behold, the singing actually added to the orchestra, rather than distracting me from it.

I would have completely changed my opinion of opera, had it not been for the usual  ironic ending. When shows, plays, operas, anything have endings like the one Rigoletto has, I cannot help but feel like my time was wasted. After such passion between the duke and Rigoletto’s daughter, after Rigoletto goes through so much to protect her, his efforts are all in vain. I cannot understand the point of watching something which ends in tragedy. Even though the music was much more beautiful than any I had heard at an opera before; even though I could appreciate the huge amount of talent the opera singers had as their crystal clear voices rang out in soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, I still left with the same overall opinion of opera. It does not amuse me.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

Rigoletto review

Everyone looks up in anticipation as the sparkling chandeliers in the theatre rise and the lights dim. When the golden curtains pull open, the stage fills with a flurry of color and music. It is the scene of a ballroom, the men and women dressed in luxurious, intricate costume. A man in a deep red suit steps forward and the theatre fills with his rich, powerful voice. It is the duke, played by Francesco Meli. His presence fills the room as he shares his amusing but demeaning views on women. His confidence as he makes advances on the countess, right in view of her husband, charms the audience as well as the duchess.

Rigoletto, played by George Gagnidze, contrasts sharply with the elaborate people of the court as he hobbles onto the scene. He joins the duke’s tenor with his deeper baritone voice. The husky quality to Rigoletto’s voice assists in his image as a lonely deformed man, separated from the people that surround him. The audience is even more impressed by Gagnidze when, during the first intermission, it is announced that he has a cold but has consented to continue as Rigoletto for the remainder of the show. After intermission, I felt myself playing closer attention to his performance to see if the cold had any effect on it but his voice and passion remained strong and steady.

One powerful scene in Verdi’s Rigoletto takes place in the courtyard of Rigoletto’s house. The audience is introduced to his daughter and learns how close their relationship is since all they have is each other. Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, is played by Christine Schafer. Her soprano voice was light and beautiful, however it was hard to follow sometimes. Her voice did not project as well as that of the other singers and therefore seemed weaker. This may have been an issue with the sound system, but this is not likely since all the other voices came across clearly. I nevertheless enjoyed the range of Schafer’s voice, a change from the men’s voices. When Gilda performed duets with Rigoletto and later with the duke, the fusion of the deep and high notes created a beautiful harmony.

The plot of Rigoletto was interesting and exciting. The set was beautifully constructed, from the rugged stone walls of Rigoletto’s courtyard to the duke’s luxurious ballroom. The bright colors and intricate designs of the costumes were eye-catching and engaging. There was not a dull moment during the performance. The story began at the carefree duke’s ball and progressed to reveal Rigoletto’s daughter and her short love affair with the duke. The ending of Rigoletto was surprisingly tragic, with poor Rigoletto left suffering while the immoral duke continued to happily live his superficial life.

I would definitely recommend seeing Rigoletto, especially as a beginner’s first opera. It was not too long and appealed to the audience in many aspects, such as costume, set, and plot. The different singers covered a wide range of vocals and this diversity led to an exciting and engaging performance, both visually and aurally.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

The Met and Me

Call me old fashioned, call me weird, but the feel of a beautiful theater makes me tingle to my bones. There is just something about a well-respected stage that feels regal and intimidating – and Lincoln Center is the holy grail of soul-tingling theaters.

Even the word “theater” seems so inadequate. In no way can what I saw last Thursday night be called simply a “theater.” As I walked up Lincoln Center’s slippery stairs in my soaked, slippery shoes all else floated away. Conversation didn’t matter, the fact that I was severely underdressed didn’t matter, and the fact that I was drenched to the core didn’t matter. I set my eyes on the fountain, romantically lit by the large, elegant buildings surrounding the square. People were everywhere, almost gliding around in their suits and heels. I felt like I should have been hand in hand with Daddy Warbucks.

As I ran inside to keep my hair somewhat dry, I stopped dead in my tracks. I don’t think I’ve been so stupefied in my life – everything was so lovely. The huge marble staircases wrapped around the entrance, engulfing me and all the other opera-goers that night. Once I took my head out of the clouds, I was sitting down, people-watching. At that point I didn’t need to see the opera. What was more interesting, to me at least, were the people. Excited families sneaking pictures, old couples quietly waiting, Macaulay students chatting to each other. Pure human interaction and excitement.

I sat on the edge of my seat like a little kid at their first baseball game. As I watched for the chandeliers to rise (as a very knowledgable opera-goer I know pointed out would happen), I could not contain myself. I watched, transfixed, as the lights dimmed (the most exciting part!). The curtains opened, and I almost jumped in my seat I was so happy.

Call me weird, I love going to shows. There is something about those mysterious curtains, and the nervous chattering, and the lights dimming, that I just just can’t wait to see what’s in store. It probably has something to do with the feeling I get when I’m on the opposite side of the curtain.

The view from my side of the curtain, Thursday, was phenomenal. It was a blur of huge costumes and insane voices. I may have been more excited about the experience than I was the actual performance, but there is no harm in that. The performance was so alien to what I am used to on the stage that it was intriguing – the set up was so totally separate from the theater I know. But in it’s novelty, it became all the more fun.

I only dozed off once, and I am proud of that.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

Rigoletto Review

Verdi’s, Rigoletto, was the first opera I have ever seen, and it without a doubt left an amazing first impression. From the moment I walked into the beautiful, luxurious Metropolitan Opera, I could tell that it was going to be something special. The size and structure of the theater itself is something marvelous to look at. I have never witnessed something like it before so it was a special sight for me.

When the chandeliers started to rise and the lights began to dim, the sudden chatter and anxiousness of the audience abruptly came to a halt. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the stage waiting for Rigoletto to begin. I thought it was tremendously put together how the orchestra began playing moments before the curtains unveiled the characters. It set the scene well when the curtains finally opened and there was a party going on. I felt the music, setting, and plot meshed well together at all times.

I thought the actors of Rigoletto were extraordinary. The voices they have are unbelievable. The base they have in their voice and their ability to hold notes as long as they do is truly remarkable to witness. Rigoletto, played by George Gagnidze, managed to persevere through his cold in order to put on a superb performance. At one point after finishing a final note, you could actually see him start to cough. He had to fight the whole night to give the impression that he was feeling alright and he did an amazing job at it.

I think that discussing Rigoletto in class before going to see it helped capture and understand what was happening during the opera. I was never lost or confused on what was happening even though it was in Italian. Knowing the plot beforehand and having the translation in front of my face helped keep my focus on what was happening. I didn’t have to do any catch up on what had occurred. All in all, I think that Rigoletto was a phenomenal first opera to see with all its history, tradition, and flavor.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

A Gem

As the golden curtains receded to the orchestra’s elegant music, I received goose bumps that stayed with me until the end of the show.  All of the components of the production focused on the most minute details, creating an enthralling experience for the viewers.  The performance of Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, from start to finish, was simply astounding.

The tragedy of Rigoletto is shocking, so for those individuals who are feint of heart, you have been warned.  We see the jester, Rigoletto, suffer the serious ramifications of a curse.  While he is at the side of the Duke of Mantua at his palace, Rigoletto thinks that he is invincible, and that he is shielded from all dangers.  However, after Monterone (whose daughter, the Duke has seduced) makes his way into the party, and curses both Rigoletto and the Duke for their behavior, he later discovers that he is human, and susceptible to these dangers.  From this point on, we witness the colossal downfall of the jester.  The disparity between someone who has a position of power and a common man is also seen, as the Duke is practically immune to the curse, while the jester, watches helplessly as the curse sends his life crashing into a downward spiral.

What was most impressive with Rigoletto, were the sets and costumes.  Authentic and grandiose, the sets immersed viewers in the realm of the setting.  The sets were three dimensional, and the buildings were detailed to the point that they actually displayed some wear and tear.  Vines covered some of these walls and buildings making it appear even more realistic.  Torches lit up the stage, and gave the sets a unique luminescence.  All of the backgrounds were stunning; there were backdrops showing everything from dark and cloudy night skies, to purple sunset skies.  What was intriguing was that the backgrounds were changing throughout the performance.   For example, in the opening of the second act, the purple sunset sky became darker as night approached.  In the third act, while the storm was raging, lightning bolts pierced the dark midnight sky.  The costumes of the characters were true to the time period of the opera, and complemented the sets and the roles that the characters played.  An example of this can be seen with characters such Sparafucile, who wore darker clothing matching his equally dark representation.  The sets and costumes of Rigoletto engulfed viewers, and made us feel as if we were truly in Mantua watching the tragedy unfold.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra gave life to Rigoletto.  The brass powered the tense moments, while the woodwinds and strings sections guided the calmer and melancholic moments.  The orchestra’s crescendos served perfectly as segues for the solos of the opera singers.  The change of pace in the orchestra’s music helped create the atmospheres for the scenes.  For example, in Act II, when Rigoletto was frantically seeking his daughter, the music was at a faster pace, perhaps at allegro.  In Act III, as the opera was concluding, the music performed by the orchestra was monumental.  The brass along with the percussion ignited the storm taking place in the scene, and finished off the opera with a homerun.

The singing and acting in Rigoletto kept the audience enticed throughout the opera.  Mr. George Gagnidze, who had a cold, showed no ill effects, as he delivered a riveting performance.  My favorite singer from Rigoletto was the bass, Andrea Silvestrelli who played Sparafucile.  His voice supplemented the dark and stormy scenes that he was mostly a part of.  The one weakness of this performance of Rigoletto was the acting of Mr. Gagnidze (Rigoletto) in the first act.  Often, the character of Rigoletto appeared emotionless, which was perhaps due to his extensive focus on singing.  For example, when Monterone curses Rigoletto in the first act, although he often mentions that he has been cursed, Rigoletto fails to exhibit too much pain for it.  However, starting from the second act (after his daughter is abducted), Mr. George Gagnidze showcased his talent as an actor.  We were able to clearly see Rigoletto’s anger, grief, and fiery appetite for revenge.

Never did I expect to enjoy an opera, as much as I enjoyed Rigoletto. A review just won’t simply do it justice; you must go and experience it for yourself.  The combination of orchestral music, realistic jaw-dropping sets, and a gripping tragedy make Rigoletto a must watch for anyone.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

Woman is a Fickle Thing.

Questa o quella.” These simple words, meaning this woman or that, truly captured the essence of the conflict found in Rigoletto. When the curtains parted and the chandeliers were drawn, I was appalled at the intricate palace that was part of the set design. Additionally, the opera singers made their appearance known through a combination of their detailed costumes and their beautifully sculpted voices.

I admit I’ve never been to an opera, and the experience at Rigoletto was a challenge for me mentally. However, I found the night at the opera to be one of the most enriching events I’ve ever attended. In Act I, the opera Rigoletto begins by introducing the promiscuous Duke of Mantua boasting about his many sexual encounters with the opposite sex. This character in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera basically ignited Monterone’s wrath. In his temper, Monterone denounces the actions of the Duke for seducing his daughter and curses the hunchback jester, Rigoletto. I found the beginning of this opera refreshingly original and interesting. Even though the opera was sung strictly in Italian, I was able to follow intently and comprehend most of the action onstage.

One surprising twist to the night at the opera is the performer, George Gagnidze, who played Rigoletto, had a cold and persisted through all of the three acts. Even though he occasionally coughed onstage, it was barely noticeable as his booming baritone voice produced a delightful melodic contrast to Gilda, played by Christine Schafer.

Rigoletto was truly an amazing experience because I had the opportunity to witness beauty in the making and to hear the professionally trained voices of the opera singers. Throughout the night, I couldn’t find a single area to complain about except for the location of our seats. All in all, it was a wonderful evening from the moment I entered The Metropolitan Opera to the instant applause roared at the curtain call of the opera singers.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

Rigoletto

When I was young my grandpa used to pick me up from school and drive me home from school until my parents got off from work. My grandpa’s car used to always smell strongly of eucalyptus, which caused me to become nauseous, and to make matters worse, during the ride home my grandpa would play this terrible music that only amplified my nausea. I vividly remember trying to stick my head out the window of the car while covering my ears in an attempt to prevent myself from throwing up.  These were my first memories of the genre they call opera. Thankfully, these events have not influenced my feelings about opera today. For all intensive purposes, my viewing of Rigoletto, last Thursday evening, was my second intense experience with the genre, one that was a much more positive and fulfilling experience than the music that I heard in my grandpa’s car.

The production of Verdi’s Rigoletto revolves around three main characters, a hunchback named Rigoletto, Rigoletto’s daughter, and the Duke. The Duke is your typical ladies man, he proclaims his love to different women every time we see him. Rigoletto is the Duke’s jester, but Rigoletto also has a secret, a daughter who he has hidden from the rest of the world. His daughter, Gilda, who is your typical naive damsel, falls in love with the Duke after they catch eyes in one day in the church. In the opening act we see the Duke courting a married woman while Rigoletto mocks her husband. Her husband, before being dragged away to prison, curses the Duke and Rigoletto. Only Rigoletto takes the curse seriously. After Rigoletto’s daughter is captured and violated by the Duke, Rigoletto seeks revenge by hiring an assassin to kill the Duke and avenge his daughter’s honor. This act of revenge, as well as the curse drives the plot for the rest of the opera. In the end it is clear that Verdi takes a cynical view when it comes down to what kind of person ultimately suffers the worse fate in life.  The plot is contrived and outdated, but that’s okay, because everything else about the opera, the most important parts, is done beautifully.

The singing was like nothing I had ever heard before. The richness of the voices, the fact that the entire opera was sung, and the beautiful melodies were beyond anything I had ever encountered. It did not matter that it was in Italian, because the emotions were so obvious that just by listening you can feel what feeling the singer is trying to convey. Even though the singer, who played Rigoletto, George Gagnidze, had a cold, there was only one word that could sum up the performances given that night, “Bravo!”

Honestly I wasn’t very surprised by the singers amazing voices, I had been expecting some of the best singing I had ever heard in my life, what I was genuinely surprised about was the elaborateness of the sets and the costumes. Every time the curtain opened there was a different set, which was interacted with throughout each Act in different ways. One minute there could be dozens of people walking around on stage, moving up and down stairs and through doors, the next minute a singer is on stage, behind him is the elaborate set, but all he does is stand in front of it and sing. These shifts from the elaborate use of sets to a more minimalist approach was shocking, something I had never seen before. What was even more impressive was that every time the curtain came up it revealed an even more elaborate and unbelievable set than the last one.  Not only were the sets great, but also the lighting was constantly changing from once scene to the next. In the third Act alone there was a sunset, a moon moving across the sky, and lightning signaling an incoming storm. This wasn’t just for looks though, the lighting and set design amplified the mood which was trying to be conveyed by the opera singers, the plot and the orchestra.

It was a pitch perfect production. At first I thought it might be boring, or too long, but I quickly learned that operas have a right to be long because they are epic. They throw everything that can be done live on stage and jam it into one production, making sure that each individual part is the highest quality on all levels.  When it fires on all cylinders, like Rigoletto did, the only outcome is an overwhelming sense of spectacle. The songs, the costumes, the music, the final curtain falling on the defeated husk of a former man, the opera is like magic.

October 19, 2010   No Comments

A ‘Sensational’ Performance

The Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center served as a great way to experience the richness and culture of New York City. The extravagant architecture of the interior of the theatre was simple mesmerizing. The contrast of the red and gold walls and seats, the decorative, ascending chandeliers, and the grandeur of the stage set the tone for the night ahead. One could only imagine what journey the opera would take the audience on.

As the lights dimmed and the curtains rose, the audience was introduced to the opera with a ballroom scene in which a party was being held. The first thing that caught my attention was the backdrop and the stage. I was amazed at how complex and detailed the sets were. The set of the first scene was actually very simple when compared to the other ones. It was only two dimensions, the upper floor and ground floor, but the actors utilized all of the given space. They used all of the entrances (left, right, and the upper right) and in one scene a character was dancing on the railing of the ballroom. The next set the audience is presented with was the sewer/alleyway where Rigoletto lived with his daughter, Gilda. The actors again, used every inch of a set that featured a multiple entrances, a background and foreground, and even a house that was separate from the rest of the alleyway. This set had five entrances, and I thought that the use of these entrances truly brought this opera to life. Combined with the lighting and how realistic the set was, there were times were I forgot I was watching a rehearsed performance. During this specific scene, the audience could see the characters using the shadows and architecture to add depth to their personas, for example Sparafucile and the members of the duke’s court. The last set that was used was one representing a sort of shack near the water, and by far this was my favorite set. I was astounded by how much detail and how multifaceted it was. Not only did the background have lightening strikes, but also the house itself with the room upstairs and then the dock outside were simply remarkable. There would be times were I would zone out from the actual plot of the opera to take in all of the details of each set, which I found to be wonderful.

I took a couple of music courses during my time in high school, and in doing so I developed an ear for music. So with the opera, I was able to fully appreciate the skills of the musicians playing. Like the stage designs, the music added another dimension. Since my seat was decently far back, I didn’t have a great view of the characters. I couldn’t see their facial expressions, but I didn’t miss a beat. The music filled that void seamlessly. The slow crescendos to build up the drama and the hard staccatos that punctuated the dramatic scenes were masterful. The melodies and harmonies complimented each of the performers’ voices and in the moments where the singing was void, the music acted as words. Overall, the music was a superb composition and a perfect fit for this opera. It echoed the emotions of the characters, while giving the audience audible clues into the theme of the given scene.

The actors in Rigoletto were outstanding. I have never been to an opera before, but their voices seemed flawless. Francesco Meli’s voice, the Duke, seemed that it would be able carry on for miles. After what seemed to be his “solo,” Meli receive a well-deserved ovation and even scattered “bravos.” Christine Schafer, Gilda, and George Gagnidze, Rigoletto, both has tremendous voices that captivated the crowd. During one of the intermissions, the audience was informed the Gagnidze was suffering from a cold, but it had almost no effect on his performance. The actors not only sang tremendously, but also acted their part. The portrayed their characters in a somewhat over dramatic way, however I felt that this over-acting was fit for an opera. The actors in Rigoletto were truly performers and they put on a great show.
Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was an opera that I thoroughly enjoyed. The opera did bore me, it grabbed my attention in more ways than one and it held on to it. The orchestra, the actors, and the overall atmosphere that was created by the opera room, was one that I took pleasure in from beginning to end.

http://ring.mithec.com/history/content/rigoletto.html

October 19, 2010   No Comments

Rigoletto

There were several points during Thursday night’s production of Rigoletto that I lost track of what exactly was going on. It wasn’t a miscast character in the ensemble, an unentertaining script, or the fact that the words were spoken in archaic Italian that caused my lapse in attentiveness; rather it was the set behind the performers that for the better part of the play kept me in awe, and pure amazement. Naturally there are more aspects to an opera than just the set design, but once the chandeliers and the curtains rose, the grandeur of the Duke’s palace enveloped the stage, and with no coincidence, the splendor of the rest of the performance followed suit.

While certainly I am no opera critic, I’d like to think that I have somewhat of a discerning taste when it comes to various art forms; yet when I entered the New York Metropolitan Opera for the first time last week, it dawned on me that rather than treat the experience as an assignment to be reviewed, my primary purpose should be to enjoy it first…and what a difference the change in mindset made. Being its some one-hundred and fifty years since the opera’s transition from Victor Hugo’s forbidden French play to a world renowned opera, it is difficult to criticize the overall storyline, which proved to be not only humorous at times, but an observation of the society at the time of its initial production.

The opera, first performed in 1851, consists of three acts and is widely held to be one of composer Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest works. Having never seen a previous rendition of ‘Rigoletto,’ naturally it is impractical to try and compare it to anything else. While having little outside knowledge of what to expect may be considered a negative to some, it allowed for me to enjoy the performance for what it was, not what it could have been. That being said, I felt the opera was particularly well cast. Playing the title character, Georgian-born baritone George Gagnidze (in his debut role at the Metropolitan Opera) adopted the role of the hunchback Rigoletto as well as one could hope, bringing with him not only his singing ability, but an emotional portrayal of a man mocked, jeered and beaten down by life, only to later on lose the single thing most important to him. Playing his daughter Gilda, was German-born Christine Schäfer, a soprano not many years Gagnidze younger (if any at all), Schäfer skillfully interacted with her costars onstage, all the while maintaining the innocence and naïveté that her secluded (and not yet mature) character possessed. Having not enough time to devote to the other singers, it should be mentioned that considering that the entire opera was done in Italian, each of the stars should be commended for their ability to inflect the emotional significance of their words in their voices.

An opera, while very much similar to a play, relies heavily on its orchestra and conductor; while I may not have the ‘ear’ to have heard possible errors, I was able to appreciate the integration of the music into the action as well as the great dramatic effect that the orchestra had on what was going on. It has always been said that the soundtrack makes or breaks a Hollywood movie, the same holds true even more so with opera productions. Whether it was supplying the background to the now well-regarded “La donna è mobile” or completely setting the scene with a dramatic open, the orchestra only deserves praise for what they accomplished.

Undoubtedly there were points of the production that I could not fit into this limited review, yet the important thing remains: I, a sports-loving, comedy-watching, teenage male, not only went to the opera, but it enjoyed it.

October 19, 2010   No Comments