The following review is based on the May 31st performance, which features Ambrogio Maestri, Adela Zaharia, and Michael Fabiano in principal roles.
Composed by opera titan Giuseppe Verdi, and with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave (inspired by Victor Hugo’s “Le roi s’amuse”), “Rigoletto” has invariably become a standard of the stage since debuting in March 1851. It brims with immense stakes, depicts a compelling narrative with memorable characters, and weaves messages of revenge, love, and sacrifice around enthralling music that is ominous, wistful, and tragic.
The Los Angeles Opera has produced an unforgettable rendition of “Rigoletto” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (through June 3rd), led by the conducting expertise of 28-year-old prodigy Matthew Aucoin, first-rate director Mark Lamos, and accomplished chorus director Grant Gershon, who have helped create an emotionally in-depth and immersive “Rigoletto” experience.
The production begins harmlessly as all operas do, as we’re introduced to an amoral playboy, the Duke of Mantua (Michael Fabiano), who chases after oodles of women, many of them married, without any qualms. The Duke is joined by his seemingly all-too carefree, mischievous, and oftentimes verbally impudent court jester, Rigoletto (Ambrogio Maestri). When the Duke tries to seduce the “wrong” woman, who happens to be the daughter of the high-tempered Count Monterone (Craig Colclough), both he and especially Rigoletto incite the wrath of her father via a curse that gradually manifests. This soon involves, as we come to surprisingly discover, Rigoletto’s secret daughter, Gilda (Adela Zaharia), whom he keeps stowed away from all lustful eyes and debauchery; however, the Duke not only pursues her, but unwittingly falls in love with the young woman, who was to remain unsullied by men like him. Of course, these events stew a recipe for a passionate suspense, murderous impulses, the hiring of an assassin named Sparafucile (Morris Robinson), and a devastating culmination that leaves one deeply moved.
Throughout the two hours and thirty-five minutes (including one intermission), audience members are left breathless at the beautifully artistic presentation of the opera, which tugs and teeters with elements of darkness and the macabre on a towering stage, inclusive of grandiose arches and buildings, which lean and lurch forebodingly. Michael Yeargan’s mesmerizing scenery is a sight to behold for how rich and vivid it is as a setting for equally striking characters adorned in Constance Hoffman’s elaborately exquisite period costumes, comprised of the most delightful-to-look-at billowy dresses, hats, and fantastic frills filled in by mustachioed men and elegant women. In addition to Robert Wierzel’s dramatically radiant lighting, suffused with deep and brilliant colors, the aesthetic palette is harnessed lavishly to complement the opera’s personae, insightful instrumentation, and harmonious singing (much of which is guided and supplemented by Gershon’s peerless chorus) to create a surreally kinetic painting.
Tenor Michael Fabiano’s Duke of Mantua (Arturo Chacón-Cruz played the role earlier in the run) is everything one might expect from an immodest ruler who acts irreverently without consequence before meeting his match in Gilda, who softens and humbles him. From basking in his own overconfidence as it pertains to the opposite sex (e.g., “Questa o quella,” or “This woman or that”), to an eager plea to be adored by his beloved (“È il sol dell’anima,” or “Love is the sunshine of the soul”), to a palpable desperation lest his soulmate forever eludes him (“Ella mi fu rapita!”, or “She was stolen from me!”), Fabiano is astonishing as the Duke who is first unseemly then sympathetic. Fabiano’s notes resonate with an increasing intensity and a grievous longing which foreshadows that, despite becoming a changed man, the destiny of his character cannot be altered from the outcome it must inevitably arrive at.
Replacing Lisette Oropesa since May 27th is Adela Zaharia, who is wonderfully adept in the role as the innocent, delicate, and daunted Gilda. The wholesomeness that is required of the ingénue is more challenging than it appears, and Zaharia’s performance earns the faith and devotion of not only her persona’s father and lover, but those in attendance at the Pavilion. When Zaharia, a soprano, sings yearningly of the Duke (who initially disguises his identity) during “Gualtier Maldè!… Caro nome” (“Dearest name”), we find ourselves ruminating on the sheer beauty inherent in her immaculate voice. It is similarly heart-wrenching to witness the bond Gilda shares with her father, in the midst of “Tutte le feste al tempio” (“On all the blessed days”) and particularly “V’ho ingannato” (“Father, I deceived you”), when Zaharia clearly and expressively conveys a tender virtuousness that lingers solemnly long after the opera concludes.
Since taking over for Juan Jesús Rodríguez, Ambrogio Maestri – who last bowled over attendees with his portrayal of the dastardly Scarpia in “Tosca” – proves himself to be a very worthy Rigoletto. Maestri’s baritone vocals are resounding and resolute, yet gilded by an underlying vulnerability that makes Maestri – and by extension, his character – very interesting to listen to. On one hand, Rigoletto wields sharp-tongued daggers in a fool’s hat and by toting a marotte (scepter), though he is also a loving and determined father when he is not jesting for the court. Maestri’s Rigoletto shines with a bright humanity during “Figlia! “Mio padre” (“Daughter!” “My father!”), emotes with an unsettled parental concern during “Riedo!… perché?” (“I’ve returned!… why?”), and sings with a heavy and sighing lament for Gilda during “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” (“Accursed race of courtiers”).
As Sparafucile, Morris Robinson — an LA Opera fan favorite — once again proves his unmistakably charismatic presence on stage, powered by a thunderous timbre that commands and yields much respect. Additionally, Craig Colclough’s Count Monterone is stupendously searing as the dishonored and seething father; and Ginger Costa-Jackson, a mezzo-soprano, intones impressively low notes necessitated by her magnetic Maddalena (Sparafucile’s sister), who is written as a contralto. Last, but not least, Juan Carlos Heredia, Joshua Wheeker, Gabriel Vamvulescu, Sharmay Musacchio, Michelle Siemens, and the rising starlet, Liv Redpath, make up a spectacular and star-studded cast.
Even though we’re 167 years removed from when “Rigoletto” first made waves, the opera remains not only engaging, but just as profoundly captivating in the year 2018. Surely, it is a testament to not only Verdi, but the LA Opera, which regularly meets and exceeds expectations by incorporating the best talent available on the scene. Thus, it’s no surprise that this “Rigoletto” is a masterful work of art that gracefully and thrillingly builds upon its very mortal themes amid a visual and aural spectacle.
For more information about LA Opera’s “Rigoletto,” please visit laopera.org