UVU and BYU teachers and students performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto with Utah Lyric Opera at the Scera Theater in Orem. The play, directed by Elizabeth Hansen of ULO, had classic opera with a twist by adding a 60’s themed setting.

The performance on Aug. 31 reflected the effort that goes into opera singing. According to Isaac Hurtado, an opera teacher and the actor playing the Duke, opera requires a tremendous amount of practice and skill from performers to produce various volumes with only their voices. Though the lack of acoustics in the small theater gave some of the singers a muffled sound, it was quickly subdued by the allure and power that the performers’ voices produced, all without the help of electronics. The only instrument accompanying the singers was a grand piano.

“I feel like it brought it closer to home, putting it in the 60’s. It made me think about it in a different way and made it more accessible,” said Paul Megrue, an audience member. The “swinging” 60’s were the peak era in modern times for the type of misogynistic behavior acted out by the Duke. Examples of this can be seen in the show Mad Men or the movie Casino, this is why Hansen chose the 60’s for the setting.

“I remember while I was walking with my mom through the casino for the first time. All this action, drinking and smoking. The Opera takes place in an old time frat house, so a Vegas casino is the perfect setting,” said Hansen. The original Opera takes place in the Duke’s seedy castle/villa where all manner of sexual misconduct goes on. In this version, it takes place in his casino in Las Vegas, also known as “Sin City.”

“Jennifer Babidge was amazing, perfect vocals while lying on your back and dying. It blew me away,” said Diana Grawd. Jennifer Babidge, performing the part of Gilda, has performed with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and it shows with her heart-piercing voice. The main leads played their roles flawlessly, with Hurtado really pouring on the womanizer charm and callous disregard for the heartstrings of the women who fell for him.

Christopher Clayton (Rigoletto) and Jennifer Babidge (Gilda) performing a duet.

Rigoletto is supposed to be deformed and hunchbacked and actor Christopher Clayton portrayed this by adding a bit of a limp to his left foot and carrying the emotional torment his character endures. The final duet between Rigoletto and Gilda tore at the soul as Gilda died in Rigoletto’s arms, fulfilling a curse for him and the Duke to be punished, although only Rigoletto lost anything.

What Hansen wanted to stress is that no one in this production of Rigoletto was hired from outside Utah. She said that there is this stigma surrounding local talent, and Hansen wanted to show that, even for a small production, there can be amazing talent and outcome. The lead singers were all from or living in Utah, and performed with jaw-dropping talent that showcased their extensive experience in the field.

Hurtado also spoke about how even the small roles were done by people with years of experience. He also said that he likes to give opportunity to the opera students to be in productions. There were three current UVU students in the program such as vocal performance majors, Daniel Perez, Esteban Sensic and the previously mentioned Isaac Hurtado. With the new major in vocal performance recently started at UVU, the program gave a lot of opportunity and will continue to since the Utah Valley Opera is making its home the Scera.

Photo credit: Daniel Perez