The Canadian Opera Company’s 2011 production of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi was one of the most spectacular operatic productions I have seen to date. Everything from set to symbolism was carefully considered and brilliantly executed.
The opera opens with Rigoletto, a hunchbacked court buffoon, positioned on the edge of down-stage left prior to the commencement of the overture. Placement of characters on stage prior to the start of the performance is a device I have rarely seen used in opera. Rigoletto’s marginalization and debasement in society because of his disability is a key theme in the opera. By placing him on the margins of the stage, this theme was communicated with pathos and sensitivity right at the outset.
As the overture unfolds, we can see lively activity taking place behind a sheer black curtain from which Rigoletto is cut off, on the outside looking in. The curtain is used to great effect at other points to represent Rigoletto’s powerlessness in his society.
Because his position is so marginal, Rigoletto’s greatest fear is that if anyone learns of his only daughter’s existence she will fall prey to sexual violence and degradation. His fears are borne out tragically and horrifically by the end of the performance.
This production pulls out all the stops with period staging. The opulent and sumptuous set, complete with wood paneling and gilt ceiling, transports the audience to a court of 19th century debauchery and excess. The costumes were also divine, although I will admit that I am biased since I never tire of seeing fancy ladies in corsets and bustles.
Several of the principle characters were making their COC debuts. While I am usually much more engaged by the singing than the acting in operas (which is to be expected), this production was an exception.
The title role was magnificently performed by baritone Quinn Kelsey. His voice was rich, warm and resonant, and his empathy for Rigoletto’s plight was completely evident in his dramatic interpretation.
I was absolutely blown away by the voice of soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova, who played the role of tragic heroine Gilda, Rigoletto’s innocent and beautiful daughter. Her performance of “Caro Nome,” one of the most famous and show-stopping arias in the entire canon, sent shivers down my spine and brought out goose pimples.
Tenor David Lomeli’s magnificent blend of freshness and bite was ideal for the role of the villainous, debaucherous Duke of Mantua. There appeared to be a minor disagreement regarding tempo between Lomeli and the orchestra during his opening aria but these ensemble issues were quickly resolved.
The shifts in mood embedded in Verdi’s complex, rich orchestral score are an integral component of this opera. The orchestra interpreted the work with nuance and passion. For the most part the unity between singers and instrumentalists was seamless.
I have seen a few productions over the last few months where I was deeply surprised by the decision of some to bring young children to the performance. It appears that a rating system of live theatre and opera would be helpful to some. Since gang rape and assassination are key plot points in this opera, I would suggest that it is not a general audiences show. My opinion is that this would be more appropriate for those over the age of 14, more of an AA rating.
My companion had never been to an opera before and was heartily impressed by this production. He advised that he would definitely like to learn more about the genre and see more operas.
Rigoletto plays at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West, Toronto)
Show times are:
- Wed. Oct. 5, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sat. Oct. 8, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.
- Thurs. Oct. 13, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
- Fri. Oct. 14, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sun. Oct. 16, 2011 at 2 p.m.
- Mon. Oct. 17, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
- Tues. Oct. 18, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
- Thurs. Oct. 20, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sat. Oct. 22, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available online or at 416-363-8231 (1-800-250-4653).
People under the age of 30 can order Opera for a New Age tickets for just $22.
Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Gilda in a scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of Rigoletto. Photo: Michael Cooper