Review: Rigoletto (Canadian Opera Company)

The Canadian Opera Company’s remount of Rigoletto in Toronto garners new relevancy in #metoo era

The Canadian Opera Company’s remount of Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi, 1851) has all the sinister opulence and dark thrills of the original 2011 production, but has a very different atmosphere in the #metoo era.

The story is simultaneously difficult to set in modern times and all too familiar. The Duke of Mantua and his rich, powerful nobleman cronies enjoy using women for sport and discarding them. They are despicable and entitled and they get away with it. Naïve young women still fall for them despite the fact that they are repulsive. I could just as easily be describing Brock Turner or Harvey Weinstein.

The Duke’s jester, the hunchback Rigoletto, is content to make a living making rape jokes about the Duke’s behaviour until it hits too close to home. He knows his deformity makes social power impossible for him, and  the only way he can protect his daughter from the Count and his men is to keep her hidden away. When his beautiful young daughter Gilda risks everything to save the Duke after he has been exposed as a scoundrel, I was uncomfortably and vividly reminded of all the questions women were asked during the trial about why they texted Gomeshi afterwards.

In my operatic utopia, Rigoletto would always be directed by a woman using an intersectional feminist lens. That is not what this period production is, but nevertheless, Director Christopher Alden does a subtle and deft job of teasing out the complex interplay of class, disability and gender that are the drivers of plot in this narrative.

The performers also do a superb job of exploring the complexities of these characters. Roland Wood is a sublime Rigoletto. His stage presence is commanding and exudes raw power. His emotional range, both dramatically and vocally was inspired. Rigoletto is a powerful man who is deeply frustrated by having to contain that power under the guise of the buffoon.  Wood portrays Rigoletto with palpable frustration and eventually fury in his voice, yet at other times is painfully vulnerable in his love and fear for his daughter. His rich, weighty baritone is a custom fit for this role.

Anna Christy’s Gilda is a triumph. Her voice shimmers and spins like silver silk thread through the virtuosic high notes of the famous Caro Nome. Her performance is also rich with understanding of Gilda’s motivations. The character’s lethal combination of teen rebellion and trusting romanticism is vivid and visceral. I too fell for a smooth-talking jerk who treated me like crap when I was a teenager. Watching her portrayal of Gilda, I was once again struck by the tragic timelessness of this story.

Stephen Costello’s carefree, lithe tenor is well suited to the role of the entitled, rapacious Duke of Mantua. His performance of operatic hit La donna é mobile is so lighthearted and superficial that it painfully illustrates one of the most devastating points of the work: The bad guys do not get their just desserts. They get away with everything and everyone who tries to stand up to them gets destroyed. His reprise of the aria, sung when Rigoletto believes he has defeated the Duke, is like a slap in the face by a delicately gloved hand.

The orchestra, conducted by Stephen Lord also wades right into the sea of emotions in this work. They’re not afraid of getting their hands dirty and draw out all of the subtle and complex dissonances that lie underneath the veneer of beautiful lyricism in this masterpiece.

The change in both the cast and times make this a very different production from the last time I saw it. I always have to brace myself for the sexual violence in this opera, but it is real and important to shine a light on. Now the dark, shimmering Victorian decadence of this production functions like a mirror reflecting our own time and daring us to break the age old patterns.


  • Rigoletto is playing until February 23, 2018 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Show times are 7:30 PM on February 17, 21, 23, with an additional matinee at 2:00 PM on February 11.
  • Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).
  • Tickets can also be purchased on the TodayTix  app and website for theatre tickets.  Mooney on Theatre readers can get $15 off their first purchase at checkout with the code MOONEY.

Photo of Roland Wood and Anna Christy by Michael Moore