Review by Danny Gaisin
Verdi’s take on a Victor Hugo tale is one of the operatic genre’s most musically profuse works. RIGOLETTO is the story of a deformed, mean-spirited jester whose only affection is for his virginal daughter whom he diligently protects. His boss is a Duke and is a definitive libertine who has noticed the daughter – Gilda, in church and naturally lusts for her. Mantua sneaks in to meet & start his seduction.
His courtiers think Gilda is Rigoletto’s mistress and plot to kidnap her thus embarrassing the hated jester who has been recently cursed by Count Monterone whose own daughter has been bedded by Mantua. They turn the girl over to the Duke who does his usual thing, so Rigoletto accepts an assassin’s offer to murder the Duke for revenge. Gilda overhears this arrangement and substitutes herself to save Mantua whom she loves in spite of the forced deflowering. She dies, Mantua sings and Rigoletto realizes that Monterone’s curse has come to fruition biting him on the proverbial ass. Curtain!
Opera Hamilton’s stage director Michael Cavanagh has updated the story to contemporary times but uses the vehicle of a Halloween party to costume some of the cast including the title character in 18th century vestments. The sets are modest and unpretentious but cleverly designed to represent different floors of a condominium apartment and an office building. Modern idioms abound some of which humorously break the dramatic tension that grows as the opera progresses. A cellphone camera records Rigoletto’s embarrassment and the audience see the pixilated result on a screen. Gilda has a laptop & earphones. An aria is performed as Karaoke with the lyrics projected in reverse so the only the singer sees it properly, and exit/entries are via an elevator. Walls are structural frames which the muse thought had been borrowed from the ongoing construction outside of Aquarius.
The title role is sung and profoundly acted by Jason Howard. His strong baritone voice is only outdone by his ability to express anguish, love and hatred with all the stops in between. His height and stature make him the dominant focus whenever he is on stage. Howard has the vocal ability to make his every aria’s message carry content and emotional profundity. As his nemesis, tenor Gordon Gietz’s Mantua performs some of the most familiar pieces from the opening ‘Questa a quella’ to the finale ‘Donna è mobile’ and in the demanding duets or quartets, that abound in this opera, his contributions are indisputable.
The murderous team of bass Taras Kulish as Sparafucile, and his pole-dancing seductress sister sung by Lauren Segal are powerful contributors to the success of this operatic version. Both are credible especially the entreaty aria that contralto Segal performs to protect Mantua from her brother’s knife. Kulish’s Mohawk, swagger and the business card offering are all performed with aplomb.
The role of young Gilda is obviously intrinsic. Soprano Simone Osborne brings such ingenuousness to her character that one would swear she’s still a teenager. But that voice; it’s so pristine and clear that this scribe’s hackles were on full alert. During the magnificent ‘caro nome’ when she’s first met Mantua, Osborne hits a faultless E-flat – the apogee of her vocal range. Bit of trivia; Caro nome is the scale in reverse, just like ‘Joy to the World’; and was made into a pop piece of music back in ’54 titled ‘Here’. Back to Osborne… during rehearsals, a metal piece of scenery K.O’ed her for the count. She’s a true trouper – the show did go on thus perpetuating a respected tradition of theatre.
The performance direction by David Speers is immaculate and his Opera Hamilton orchestra – faultless. His assistant and also chorus master is Peter Oleskevich and they are a symbiotic partnership. It shows in both the details and overall stage impression. There are some negatives. Scene changes are durationally extensive and in some cases disturbingly noisy. Some of the modern reference gadgetry may seem kitschy to purists but the plot, lyrics and compositions are true to the original creation. RIGOLETTO is at Aquarius until Oct. 27th.