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A baffling return

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
01/20/2018 -  & January 27, February 1, 4, 6, 9, 11, 17, 21, 23, 2018
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Roland Wood (Rigoletto), Anna Christy (Gilda), Stephen Costello*/Joshua Guerrero (The Duke of Mantua), Goderdzi Janelidze (Sparafucile), Carolyn Sproule (Maddalena), Robert Pomakov (Monterone), John Kriter (Borsa), Lauren Eberwein (Countess Ceprano), Neil Craighead (count Ceprano), Bruno Roy (Marullo), Megan Latham (Giovanna), Simone McIntosh (Page), Samuel Chan (Usher)
The Canadian Opera Company Men’s Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Stephen Lord (conductor)
Christopher Alden (director), Michael Levine (set and costume designer), Duane Schuler (lighting designer)

R. Wood & A. Christy (© Michael Cooper)

Seeing this production on its second appearance in Toronto (first staged here in 2011) increases the fondness of my memories of the COC’s earlier Rigoletto, with its design by George Tsypin, premiered in 1992, then repeated in 1996 and 2004. In the current production the handsomeness of Michael Levine’s designs is all for naught, given Christopher Alden’s approach which manages to be both finicky in its attention to irrelevant detail and sloppy in its disregard of the work’s taut dramatic action. Alden can’t be bothered to fulfill the demands of the libretto and instead has devised a whimsical grab bag of effects that have neither cause nor consequence. One example: after the Duke sings “La donna e mobile” the ever present chorus and supers engage in mock, slo-mo, silent applause. After Sparafucile receives his money from Rigoletto he dumps it on the stage. If there is some sort of profundity in all this it eludes me.

The tiresome plot Alden has imposed involves Giovanna, Gilda’s nurse, who hates Rigoletto but becomes smitten with the duke when he abruptly kisses her. She then wreaks revenge by engineering Gilda’s murder. Thus she invades every scene like an unwelcome guest.

Musically, however, we find ourselves in much happier territory. Roland Wood is a commanding Rigoletto as he expresses every facet of this daunting role. Stephen Costello has exactly the right voice for the duke, although is at a disadvantage in key instances, such as at the opening he seems to be confined to a sofa, and for “Possente amor mi chiama” he is too far upstage. (Joshua Guerrero assumes the role for three performances on February 11, 17 and 23.)

Anna Christy is a marvelously affecting Gilda. Her soft-grained voice might lack the ultimate in brilliance (although she excels in a couple of key moments) but she never fails to be expressive.

Goderdzi Janelidze’s basso is thrillingly dark for the villainous Sparafucile. Carolyn Sproule is uneven as Maddalena. Outstanding in smaller roles are Robert Pomakov as Monterone and Lauren Eberwein as Countess Ceprano. Stephen Lord directs with a sure hand, and orchestra and chorus are up to the usual high standard.

This production was initially staged for Chicago’s Lyric Opera in 2000. English National Opera used this production for one season (in 2014) before reverting to their “classic” production by Jonathan Miller, first performed in 1982. Lyric Opera subsequently (and wisely) moved on to a new production. The COC’s persistent allegiance to this mess is a puzzle.

Michael Johnson



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