Rigoletto, LA Opera

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Directed by Mark Lamos
Conducted by James Conlon
Starring George Gagnidze, Sarah Coburn, and Gianluca Terranove
Los Angeles Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Through Dec. 18, 2010

From the opening curtain, “Rigoletto” at the Los Angeles Music Center captures your attention. Michael Yeargan’s set is a version of De Chirico’s iconic Piazza d’Italia; bordered by arched colonnades, the stark, forced perspective lends itself to lighting designer Mark McCullough’s intense interior lighting that projects moods varying from vivid reds to brooding cool, but equally intense, blues and greens. The LA Opera orchestra, under the baton of James Conlon, matches the colors and intensity of the set. Although some would say that the pace was a bit pushed for the singers, the orchestral and choral energy set the scene for a thoroughly engaging performance.

Verdi based “Rigoletto” on “Le Roi s’amuse” by Victor Hugo.Gianluca Terranova cuts a believable, spirited figure as the philandering, party-boy, sociopathic Duke who certainly does live to “s’amuse.” The opening is a bawdy, masked, commedia dell’arte ball. Courtiers mingle with risqué courtesans, several with Carol Doda-worthy bosoms—nipples and all—spilling over the tops of their gowns. Rigoletto (George Gagnidze) is the hunchbacked jester to the Duke. His role is to amuse with nasty barbs and taunts. Gagnidze attacks the role with a “best defense is a good offense” vigor. His is a “take no prisoners” Rigoletto. He may be ugly but he is not a fool.

George Gagnidze in the title role of LA Opera’s “Rigoletto”

At home Rigoletto sheds his clown accouterments and nasty demeanor; he becomes the adoring father of the fair and lovely Gilda (Sarah Coburn). She is the center of his life. So afraid is he that harm will befall her that he locks her up in his house. She is young, beautiful, and bored; her father’s love is not enough. Like anyone who has been raised wrapped in cotton batting, her judgment has had no opportunity to develop. When the philandering Duke catches site of her it is no match. The father’s worst nightmare: the Duke sweeps her off her feet, she is besotted, convinced that this is true love. Rigoletto is enraged. He, of course, knows with certainty (and it turns out with accuracy) what a cad his boss is and vows to protect her to the point of having the Duke murdered. Like any good mystery there is a tragic twist and he has his daughter murdered instead.

The crux of “Rigoletto” is the intense relationship between father and daughter and the pathos he endures fearing her loss, a pathos made unbearable when his fear comes true. Sarah Coburn is a beautiful coloratura soprano. Her voice shimmers and she is a pleasure to watch. Missing from her performance, however, is warmth. Although this does not seriously detract from listening to her, it does dampen the apparent emotions between father and daughter. The mixture of love and pain between them is not felt as intensely as the story calls for.

Though I might wish for a more emotional “Rigoletto,” the totality is smart, stylish, and entertaining. Verdi’s music is, of course, glorious and Conlon does it justice. The voices are beautifully balanced and well matched to their parts. Two and a half hours pass quickly and pleasurably.

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