Opera Review: RIGOLETTO (LA Opera)

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by Jim Allen on June 3, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


In Rigoletto, Verdi’s score is as delightful and charming as ever, with such memorable songs as “La donna è mobile” and “Caro nome.” Moreover, it is perfectly balanced between large ensemble scenes and more intimate duets. Rigoletto doesn’t drag either, nor is it overly long, but lasts a reasonably full two and a half hours, including one intermission, and LA Opera’s production is a delight.

Based on Victor Hugo’s 1832 play Le roi s’amuseRigoletto is a tragedy in three acts set in 16th-century Mantua featuring a cast of finely-drawn, multi-layered characters. It is also about the power of words to curse, to wound, and to woo. At the center is the eponymous protagonist, who is overly protective of his daughter Gilda, poignantly portrayed by newcomer Rosa Feola. Rigoletto refuses to let her out of the house or to be drawn out on the subject of her mother/his deceased wife. As the court jester, he has created many enemies with his sharp-tongued and insulting jokes masquerading as wit and whimsy.

The opening takes place at a gathering in the Duke of Mantua’s (Michael Fabiano) palace, where he brags about his promiscuity and asserts his authority while reveling with other men’s wives. The unpopular hunchbacked jester Rigoletto (Ambrogio Maestri) annoys the duke’s guard at the party and they plot to kidnap the woman whom they believe to be his mistress, but who is in fact his daughter, Gilda (Adela Zaharia, making her LA debut).

She then falls into the hands of the eminently amorous duke, who seduces every lovely lady he meets, including Gilda. Rigoletto vows revenge against the duke, hiring the assassin Sparafucile, sinisterly played by bass Morris Robinson. Even after Rigoletto reveals to Gilda the duke’s perfidy, she sacrifices herself in place of her beloved.

Director Mark Lamos brings these interesting characters vividly to life by artfully arranging their movements, such as in the opening tableau and in the way certain individuals are tossed about by the crowds. Michael Yeargan’s angular set designs simply and elegantly evoke the opera’s Renaissance settings. Robert Wierzel’s lighting designs are as brilliant as ever, contributing to the mood almost as much as does the music. While Constance Hoffman’s costumes are not the most historically-informed or -fashionable creations, their bold hues and textures effulgently enliven the production’s aesthetic.

Zaharia is simply stunning, and Fabiano’s ravishing tenor lilts and soars as the profligate duke. Matthew Aucoin uses all of his youthful vigor to create a grand sound from the pit. Rigoletto is classic Italian opera; and classic Verdi. Even if you’ve seen Rigoletto before, this magnificent production really hits the mark.

photos by Ken Howard and Karen Almond

LA Opera
San Francisco Opera production
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Ave
ends on June 3, 2018
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit LA Opera

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