Okay, we’ll just start with the usual warning — that I am no musical or operatic expert — and add another about the time and place and the horrible place of women at the time of the penning of the opera, the time it was set and…well…even today. Yes, #GildaToo.
All of that said, the Opéra de Montréal’s production of Rigoletto was a delight and an excellent way to start off the new season. I have a personal penchant for bouncy Italian music, soaring duets and solos, and even for a good rollicking chorus, and I got them all. Those and the bonus of soprano Myriam Leblanc treating us to some exceptionally beautiful high notes and bass baritone Vartan Gabrielian setting my little gay heart aflutter with some lovely low notes. And I believe those two are both locals, or at least Canadians! Lovely!
The story is, of course, completely awful. The lascivious Duke has his way with any woman he wants and tends to punish the men who dare to stand up to him about that. Very little opportunity to hear what the women involved might want, of course. A carelessly broad curse tossed out by Monterone following the “seduction” of his daughter, the Countess Ceprano, seems to have stricken Rigoletto, the court jester, even more than the Duke who did the “seducing”. (Yes, those quotation marks are an expression of doubt around the issue of consent.) Rigoletto, for all his mocking of the male “victims” of the Duke’s philandering with “their” women, wants very much to protect his daughter from his employer.
The crowd will have none of that, thinking that Gilda is Rigoletto’s mistress, not his daughter, and they set out to kidnap her, involving a strangely unsuspecting Rigoletto in the plot, blindfolded of course. Gilda is delivered to the Duke, who she already knows as “a poor student” who spied her in church and has professed his love to her. The crowd’s recounting of the kidnapping of Gilda to the Duke is one of the delightful musical moments (crowd edition) of the production for me.
Rigoletto gets Gilda back and arranges for her to escape to Verona disguised as a man while he takes advantage of an offer from the assassin/innkeeper Sparafucile (Gabrielian — swoon — beautiful voice AND dangerous!) to be done with the Duke forever. Rigoletto pays half up front after he and the yet-undisguised Gilda overhear the Duke’s overtures to Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena (and he sings that women are fickle!), to return with the second installment when the deed is done. He insists on being the one who will throw the body into the river.
Maddalena develops a soft spot for the Duke and proposes that her brother instead kill Rigoletto when he returns, thereby getting the whole sum anyway, but Sparfucile has scruples and will not betray his client. Not until version two of the ruse presents itself in the form of a beggar who knocks at the door. Killing the beggar instead of the Duke to fool Rigoletto is just fine, apparently. Alas, the beggar is Gilda in her man drag and she is stabbed from behind by our dangerous hitman.
Sparafucile delivers the body to Rigoletto as arranged and collects his final payment. Rigoletto is unable to resist looking at the corpse — especially after hearing the Duke in the distance singing La dona è mobile — and discovers his daughter, who seems to come back to life for a bit to sing (this is opera after all), and then sings as an angel from atop the city walls. The philandering Duke has doubtless moved on to his next conquest.
I liked the sets, also as usual. Great walls in a state of disrepair, cutaway views of courtyards, and very little disruption of the action for the changes. In one spot, Rigoletto and Gilda are singing in front of the scrim and the curtain, allowing for a quick set change that is discreet and well-executed. The lighting also bears mentioning, as the thunder/lightning storm that unfolds while we are looking into the courtyard at Sparafucile’s wayside inn continues through the aforementioned scene change — we see flashes of light at the bottom of the curtain. Very clever.
To recap: lovely opera, horrible story, beautiful voices, nice sets and good lighting effects.
To go off on a tangent, I think it might be time for the conductor to update his profile photo (he looked significantly older in person!) and it might be time for me to invest in some opera glasses (I’m looking at you, Vartan Gabrielian!).