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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Opera Review

Rigoletto is among the most popular and beloved operas in the repetoire. Written by Giuseppe Verdi in 1851, it takes a boffo performance to draw the audience out of it seats to a standing ovation and that’s what it got at the Los Angeles Opera this week, under the conducting baton of James Conlon.

Set in Mantua, Italy, in the 16th century, it’s based on Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse. The king has been transposed to the Duke of Mantua, a spoiled, handsome young womanizer. Rigoletto is the court jester who has turned his one asset, a cruel sharp tongue, into ducats which hide his deformed body. He wears a bi-colored jester ensemble whose splendor is only overcome by the Duke’s elaborate suits in Constance Hoffman’s costume design.

Rigoletto has a daughter, Gilda, who has been back three months, just long enough to catch the Duke’s eye in church. He woos her in the guise of a student and Gilda, ablaze with the glory of first love, keeps the secret from her father. The courtiers, jealous of Rigoletto’s’ sharp tongue and proximity to the Duke, plan to kidnap her, in the belief that she is Rigoletto’s mistress. Rigoletto interrupts them and they tell him they’re after the Countess Ceprano and talk him into wearing a blindfold like theirs and holding the ladder to Gilda’s window. This is director Mark Lamos’ one slip in an otherwise well-directed scenario. He doesn’t give Rigoletto enough scope in the blindfolding scene to befuddle him. Nonetheless, the courtiers make away with Gilda.

The succeeding Acts deal with Gilda’s ravishment, Rigoletto’s revenge with the help of the dastardly Sparafucile and his voluptuous sister Maddalena and the tragic denouement.

The top of Act IV brings the Duke to an assignation with Maddalena in which he sings the perennially popular La donna e mobile (Woman is fickle).

Verdi’s glorious music is displayed here in a wide range from the light-hearted aria above to Addio, the lovers farewell, to Caro Nome (Dear Name), Gilda’s lilting and caressing meditation on the false name the Duke has given her, to the breathtaking quartet in Act IV between the Duke and Maddalena, a love plea, and Rigoletto and Gilda, in sorrow and anger. It’s one of the best-loved quartets in the repetoire and these singers do it justice.

Rigoletto is one of George Gagnidze's signature roles, and the baritone brings strong acting ability to his singing skills. His cruelty and his love for Gilda are both vividly depicted. Andrea Silvestrelli as Sparafucile in dour black with a booming bass voice is ominous as the professional cutthroat. As his sister Maddalena, Kendall Gladen is voluptuous and taunting. And last but hardly least are Gianluca Terranova as the Duke and Sarah Coburn as Gilda. Both have lyrical soaring voices and acting skills. The audience gave the palm to Gilda, perhaps because it was a more sympathetic part.

Michael Yeargan has designed a stunning modernistic set which contrasts with Constance Hoffman’s traditional ornate costumes. The scarlet interior of Rigoletto’s house is a distraction.

Ultimately any performance of Rigoletto will stand or fall on its musical interpretation and at the Los Angeles Opera, the standing ovation by an enthusiastic audience was well deserved!

Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by F.M. Piave after a play by Victor Hugo
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Mark Lamos
Cast: Rigoletto (George Gagnidze), The Duke of Mantua (Gianluca Terranova), Gilda (Sarah Coburn), Count Monterone (Daniel Sumegi), Sparafucile (Andrea Silvestrelli), Maddalena (Kendall Gladen)
Scenery Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Constance Hoffman
Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough
Running time: Two hours 35 minutes
Running dates: November 27-December 18, 2010
Where: Los Angeles Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on December 2, 2010.
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