The three-act work - which enjoyed its Venice premiere in 1851 - is widely considered to be the first true masterpiece in Verdi's mid-to-late career.
Company notes describe the well-known tale: "As the libertine Duke of Mantua's jaded jester, Rigoletto is known for sparing no one his biting and often vicious sarcasm. But when courtiers abduct Rigoletto's beloved daughter, Gilda, for the Duke's enjoyment, a curse and misdirected revenge bring tragedy and are Rigoletto's undoing."
Over the course of the nine-performance run, the coveted title role is being shared by two notable baritones:
Carlos êlvarez of Spain made his company debut in 1996 and has previously sung Rigoletto for the Royal Opera House _Covent Garden. Additional credits include Don Carlo under Lorin Maazel (Salzburger Festspiele), Otello under Sir Colin Davis (London Symphony Orchestra), Don Giovanni under Riccardo Muti (Teatro alla Scala) and Macbeth with the Metropolitan Opera.
American Gordon Hawkins - Washington National Opera's 2006 Artist of the Year and previous winner of the Luciano Pavarotti International Vocal Competition - returns after having sung Porgy in the company's 2005 Porgy and Bess. Most recently, he has appeared as Tonio in Pagliacci at Seattle Opera, Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera at Op_ra de Montr_al and Scarpia in Cleveland Opera's Tosca.
Also double-cast are the principal roles of Gilda and the Duke of Mantua.
The female lead is sung by Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova and Korean soprano JiYoung Lee. Petrova's credits include Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Fledermaus, Der Rosenkavalier, Falstaff and Don Pasquale - all for the Met - as well as engagements at the USA Spoleto Festival, Teatro Real Madrid, and Pittsburgh Opera. Lee is a former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist who performed Queen of the Night in the Young Artist performance of The Magic Flute. Recent engagements include Zerlina in Don Giovanni with New York City Opera and MicaêŠla in Carmen at Toledo Opera.
Tenors Joseph Calleja and Alexey Dolgov share the role of the Duke. Calleja has made the role one of his calling cards with performances at Bayerische Staatsoper, the Metropolitan Opera and Teatro Verdi Trieste. This production marks the North American debut for Dolgov, who will be seen next season as Rodolfo in Houston Grand Opera 's La Bohme and as Alfredo in La Traviata at Los Angeles Opera.
Also featured are Polish mezzo-soprano Małgorzata Walewska as Maddalena and Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli as the hired assassin Sparafucile. Both are making their company debuts. The staging is by Catherine Malfitano and Giovanni Reggioli conducts.
The four remaining performances of Rigoletto at the Kennedy Center Opera House are scheduled for April 8, 9, 12 and 13.
Next on the season calendar will be the company premiere of Handel's rarely-heard Tamerlano, beginning April 30.
For information and tickets, visit www.dc-opera.org
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All photos by Karin Cooper for Washington National Opera.