Verdi | Rigoletto
directed by Lindy Hume
revival director Daniel Pelzig
Academy of Music, Philadelphia
April 29-May 8
Opera Philadelphia returned to the Academy of Music Stage for the first time in almost 3 years, with a full, production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, re-envisioned in an oligarchy of Duke of Mantua by director Lindy Hume in 2012 (for the New Zealand Opera) ”I found inspiration for this bad boy Duke…in Silvia Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister.” Hume noted.
Verdi and librettist Francesco Piave adapted the story from a Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, aside from its themes of brutality against women, it also was a political scandal as it seemed to allude to the king of France, after its premiere in Vienna censors closed it and the opera was not seen onstage again for 50 years, but since has became a classic of Verdi’s famed middle period of opera sera classics, and scandalizing Vienna, in its depiction of rape, political corruption.
The Count gets bored with the usual bacchanalia at his state room and looks for action on the other side of the track. He is even bored with his court fool Rigoletto, who he abuses routinely in front of his cabal of sycophants. Sound familiar.
Hume also wanted to make the point about the cultural implications of the prevalence of criminal, misogynist, abusive subjugation of women by men in power. Then and now. Still, the narrative, set in the contemporary world, doesn’t escape some thematic problems, as it is set in this era where the characters can check their mobiles as they plot around the lascivious and corrupt Count.
At the center of the sweaty melodrama is the fate of his beautiful daughter Gilda who he keeps hidden. But the Duke’s henchmen brutalize and kidnap, claiming she is Rigoletto’s secret mistress, when she is actually his daughter. Meanwhile, the Duke sees her a church and wants her, he goes around town posing as a penniless student, and she is smitten with him.
It is unsettling now, for instance, to see Gilda, fling herself at the Duke because she loves him after her father takes her to a seedy bar where the Duke is pawing a prostitute.
Richard Roberts’ gilt marbled court parlor set design which seamlessly reconfigures into back-alley crime scenes and Rigoletto’s home, moves along the plot stunning noirish stage pictures in tandem with Drew Billiau’s sculpted noirish lighting. There are no dance scenes in this Rigoletto, but Daniel Pelzig, the revival director, kept the group scenes in naturalized, earthy motion. through the miasma of plot points.
Baritone Anthony Clark Evans, builds a reserved performance as Rigoletto, acting the part of the buffoon in court, but signaling contempt, his physical performance as ‘the hunchback’ minimalistic, his rich baritone, simmers with inner turmoil. As Gilda, Soprano Raven McMillion sumptuous upper range handles the opera’s difficult (and character sketchy) scenes, with touching interpretive artistry.
Joshua Blue revels in his swagger as a bored, heartless Duke, with a mighty tenor, gleefully unconvincing in his second act aria about ‘being a new man’ after trying to seduce Gilda in the presence of her heartfelt emotions. His swagger most cynical in the opera’s greatest hit ‘la donna e mobile’ sung with seething sincerity by Blue.
Outstanding supporting cast starting with Wei Wu as Sparafucile, an ask-no-questions hitman who knows every angle, and all that is conveyed in multiple ways with Wei Wu’s fine acting and sumptuous basso vocals. Kristen Choi’s Maddalena’s in stunning in a leather-fringe mini and spikey mezzo perfect for the bar hooker ready for any hustle.
Opera Philadelphia maestro Corrado Rovaris doesn’t vamp the symphonics, and actually seemed underpowered in spots, but mostly this was a fulsome performance, supported by OP choristers in mighty Verdian form under the consummate direction of Elizabeth Braden.