“Came to New York,
Aimed at the opera —
Sing “Rigoletto” his wish —
At the Fulton Market now he yells ‘Fish!’”
When Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote that lyric for a song in their Broadway musical, “Wonderful Town,” it was used to convey the idea that sometimes one’s highest goals in life remain unfulfilled.
Some six decades later, and about 160 years after Giuseppe Verdi wrote his three-act opera, based on a play by Victor Hugo, “Rigoletto” remains, for many, a pinnacle in the opera canon, combining the sultry and the ribald, and loaded with catchy melodies, making it what great opera is all about.
While most will never get the chance to perform in a production of the famed opera, lucky viewers in Queens will at least get to see some talented singers lend their voices to the work. On April 3, the Queens Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Constantine Kitsopoulos, will present a free concert version of the Italian masterpiece.
Providing music to the community has been the mission of the QSO since it was founded in 1953 by David Katz, its first conductor. The ensemble’s purpose is to “make a lasting contribution to the cultural advancement and prestige of the community, including the youth.”
To this day, it remains the only professional orchestra and the oldest and largest professional arts organization in the borough, offering between 10 and 20 concerts per year, serving 30,000 residents, including 8,000 youth.
Katz died in 1987. He was succeeded by Arthur Fagen, the QSO’s second conductor, who kept it a fixture in the community for the next 15 years.
Since assuming the reins of the group in 2006, Kitsopoulos has put his own artistic plan into motion, combining various world art forms with the traditional symphonic style to create new genres of music, in the hopes of speaking to the heart of the ethnically diverse borough.
New additions to the orchestra’s programs include a return to the Young Soloist Competition and Symphony 101, a musical demonstration series offered in public libraries throughout the borough.
Kitsopoulos, whose background includes the worlds of opera, symphony and Broadway, is taking an unusual approach to “Rigoletto,” reverting to its purest form, as it was originally written, eschewing many of the flourishes that have become the norm.
The opera, set in 16th-Century Mantua, Italy, includes one of the world’s most famous arias, “La donna e mobile.” It is at once romantic and tragic, dealing with the world of noblemen, and incorporating mistaken identity, curses and vengeance.
The title role, that of a hunchbacked court jester, is to be sung by famed baritone Avi Albrecht, a cantor at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore, the largest modern orthodox synagogue in America.
Soprano Kate Oberjat, whose voice has been described as velvety smooth, is cast as his daughter, Gilda, a role she says “shows off the beauty of the voice. It is a soprano’s dream to sing this role.”
This version of the opera “is going to be different,” promised Oberjat, who explained the difficulties in singing the role of Gilda: “You have to have strength and warmth in the middle and flexibility and range in the high register.”
Glenn Seven Allen, a tenor, is singing the role of the Duke of Mantua, which he first sang last year for the New York Lyric Opera. Allen has also appeared on Broadway, in “The Light of the Piazza.”
And the role of Sparafucille, an assassin, will be sung by bass Nathan Baer, whose credits include the national tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
According to Oberjat, the production will be semi-staged, with minimal costumes and with the orchestra on stage.
She also indicated that the chorus will consist entirely of students from Queens College, who will also be filling some of the minor roles.
“It gives them the platform to see how a professional production is done,” she said.
Though no subtitles will be offered, a synopsis will be provided in the program to make it easier to follow the plot, she said.
“Rigoletto” will be performed on April 3 at 1 p.m. at LeFrak Concert Hall at Queens College (65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing). While admission is free, general seating is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
When: April 3, 1 p.m.
Where: LeFrak Concert Hall at Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing