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The Teatro Lirico D'Europa, presented by Opera Niagara, paid its third annual visit to Shea's Performing Arts Center on Monday evening, proving that there's more than a little truth in the old adage about the third time being the charm.

The Lirico's two previous Buffalo offerings, "Turandot" and "Aida," had suffered from problems in staging, casting, singing and orchestral playing. It's nice to be able to report that Monday evening's production of "Rigoletto," by company director Giorgio Lalov, finally got everything right.

The experienced opera-goer doesn't attend touring company productions, and especially one-night stands given by a barnstorming troop like this one, expecting to experience miracles of stagecraft. Yet, since opera is a visual as well as a musical experience, the settings do matter. The sets for this production worked, while not being elaborate, because attention was paid to details, from the hall of the ducal palace, with its slyly erotic central painting, to the effectively trompe-d'oeil painted backdrop of the palace in the alley scene.

With its wealth of beautiful tunes, "Rigoletto" is very much a singers' opera, and this production featured three strong lead singers. With its punishing schedule, the Lirico has to double cast all its principal roles, and the Buffalo audience was lucky enough to hear Theodore Lambrinos in the title role.

Lambrinos sang the part of Rigoletto with the confidence of someone who has appeared in the role on the stage of the Met. He used the full range of his rich baritone voice to shape a convincing character performance, moving from bitter sarcasm in the court scenes, to the most tender love for his daughter, before his final fall into despair. Lambrinos was particularly effective in conveying the lightning-quick shifts of mood in his aria "Pari siamo."

American soprano Kenneithia Mitchell proved to be an ideal Gilda, bringing the role of Rigoletto's sheltered daughter alive with vivid emotion. Mitchell's warm, vibrant voice easily stood up to Lambrinos' in their duets, while her beautifully shaded phrasing in her aria "Caro nome" brought the house down.

Roumen Doikov has a clear, well-projected tenor, and there was something irresistible about his portrayal of the hormonally driven Duke. The guy's a heel, but he gets the best tunes, and women can't keep away from him. A female patron was heard to exclaim that "he's just like the kind of guy that I always meet." The first few notes of "La donna e mobile" brought a shudder of recognition from the audience, and Doikov gave them exactly the kind of performance they had come to hear.

Bass Ivica Tomasev made an effective Sparafucile, and mezzo Carla Bosco sang a surprisingly strong Maddalena, with both at their best when joining Lambrinos and Mitchell in the exquisite last act quartet. The choral singing was very well focused, and conductor Krassimir Topolov elicited a well-paced, detailed performance that moved the action along, but rightly left the spotlight on the singers.


Verdi's opera, in a touring production by Teatro Lirico D'Europa. Presented by Opera Niagara.

Monday evening in Shea's Performing Arts Center.

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