COSTA MESA — The plight of the tormented jester in Verdi's "Rigoletto" received its due from Gordon Hawkins during the second performance of the opera Sunday afternoon at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Hawkins brought a clear, convincing baritone and a sure dramatic instinct to his part.
His versatility extended both to vocal and thespian skills, exemplified by his powerful, angry "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" ("Courtiers, Vile, Damnable Rabble"), with its shift to a darkly shaded, pathetic plea for "Miei signori, perdono, pietate!" ("My Lords, Forgive Me, Have Pity") in Act III (originally Act II--this production divides Verdi's first act into two).
As Gilda, the filial object of Rigoletto's love and concern, Bulgarian soprano Darina Takova captivated with sensitivity and lyric flexibility, both qualities memorably illuminated in pure-toned coloratura flights during the aria "Caro nome." Able to float the softest of stratospheric notes to the bitter end, but still hold her own over the brass in the storm scene, Takova's Gilda emerged touching and honest, whether matched in poignancy by Hawkins or partnered with a less communicative singer like Carlo Ventre.
In the role of the Duke of Mantua, Ventre demonstrated an impressive instrument but little awareness of text. He hit the notes squarely, mostly loudly, sometimes softly--with no gradations in between. And though, as an actor, the tenor seemed to have graduated from the Nelson Eddy school of deadpan singers, his woodenness did not destroy an otherwise strong production.
* Opera Pacific presents "Rigoletto" with this cast Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $22-$89. (714) 740-OPERA. The other principals will sing Wednesday and Saturday at 8 p.m.