I was going to skip seeing Rigoletto in LA while I was down there to see Lohengrin, mostly because of the cost and I'd seen the production when it was here in SF a few years back. Then my grandmother told me that LAO had invited a bunch of seniors to a dress rehearsal and she seemed to regret not going. Then LAO sent out a survey and after finishing it I was pleased to get a 50% off code to buy tickets to any performance. So with that fortuitous bit of good luck I took my 97 year old grandmother to her first opera. She only slept through about ten minutes of the first act and no, I didn't wake her up.
|Photos: Robert Millard
LAO has a winner here. This is the best Rigoletto I've seen. Conductor James Conlon lit the orchestra on fire, which is especially impressive after leading them in a gorgeous performance the night before. We were seated in the second row of the orchestra, giving me a mostly clear shot at watching him lead- and it was interesting to watch him conduct and sing along through most of the score. The cast is first rate: as Rigoletto, George Gagnidze was in fine voice, but equally important, he brought an actor's sensibility to the role without going overboard. An operatic anti-hero if there ever was one, Gagnidze's hunchbacked jester evoked disdain for everyone around him yet still came through as sympathetic. With the exception of King Philip in Don Carlo, Rigoletto is Verdi's most nuanced character and can be hard to capture and Gagnidze's portrayal is a memorable one.
As his daughter Gilda, Sarah Coburn sang beautifully and evoked the innocence the character needs with ease. Unfortunately the audience began to applaud before "Caro nome" was finished, but she wasn't thrown by it. Andrea Silvestrelli's Sparafucile was creepy and slimy, but his voice lacked menace. There was something unconvincing about to me, but the audience responded very positively to him at the curtain. Kendall Gladen was fine, especially in the quartet. Daniel Sumegi's Count Monterone was also well-sung.
As the Duke, Gianluca Terranova was the most believable I've seen in the role yet. Dashing, good-looking, with a voice that validates the hype he's been getting lately, Terranova is a singer to keep your eye out for. If he has a tendency to sing to the audience more than than to the other characters onstage, I'm going to write that off to director Mark Lamos. He sang everything as passionately as he did "La Donna Mobile" and didn't go over the top on what may be the best known aria ever written.
The set worked better here than it did in SF, perhaps because this production felt grittier. From the opening scene at the Duke's ball, where women in masks and exposed breasts gave the scene a salaciousness it lacked previously, the tilted walls and darkly-lit doorways suggest treachery lurks just out of sight and creates a sense of claustrophobia that Gilda and Rigoletto experience in different ways. Garish lighting by Mark McCullough only added to the effect. The chorus was excellent, as were Constance Hoffman's costumes.
The lecture by Conlon was packed. I enjoyed it immensely but after it was over my grandmother wondered why he had to tell us the whole story. Don't listen to her- Conlon's a wealth of erudite, interesting information and if you have the time beforehand his lectures are well worth attending.
There are two more performances on December 15 and 18. And my grandmother really enjoyed it. She said she'd go again.