This has not been the best of seasons for LA Opera, at least in terms of concepts, but along comes a lovely production of Verdi’s Rigoletto directed by the incomparable Mark Lamos. The design for this imported production (from San Francisco) is colorful, Venetian, gorgeous, and with interesting costumes including the use of Commedia masks.
Rigoletto comes from Verdi's middle period, which also included La Traviata and Il Trovatore. These operas contain some of Verdi’s most vivid characters: Azucena in Il Trovatore, the alluring Violetta in La Traviata, and the truly great title character at the center of Rigoletto, an angry hunchback who faces ridicule daily as a court jester when in fact, he has nothing to jest about. Even his beloved daughter Gilda is kept locked up so as not to be contaminated by the outside world. Unfortunately the world finds a way inside the house when the playboy Duke of Mantua comes a-wooing, telling Gilda that she is his true love. Rigoletto becomes enraged and plots te Duke's murder, but unknown to Rigoletto, his daughter sacrifices herself in the Duke’s place.
Verdi got his plot from Victor Hugo and used it as the basis of some great music. It is, after all, the music that must tell the story, and Verdi came up with some very dark passages to underline the plot. Except for the naive Gilda, every character in the opera is detestable. I really liked the approach George Gagnidze took in creating his Rigoletto. He was nasty from the beginning and didn’t really soften up much, even with his daughter. The singer had a rich dark tone that spoke powerfully to his predicament. Sarah Coburn sang Gilda. She has a lovely voice and sang the famous “Caro Nome” with glorious precision. Gianluca Terranova played the dastardly Duke. As the villainous Sparafucile, Andrea Silvestrelli had a powerful bass that stood in great contrast to all the other voices in the piece.
Of course if you don’t have a good chorus and a wonderful conductor all will be for naught. LA Opera is extremely lucky to have a maestro with great musical sensitivity and knowledge. Despite the darkness of the piece, Maestro James Conlon kept things moving at a brisk pace.