Recently the Coen brothers created a film called A Serious Man about a family burdened by an ancient curse. The modern film making duo would be right at home with the story of Rigoletto, a prideful invalid, who recognizes the portent of a father’s curse, the moment it reaches his ear. A Clown who tries to avenge one tragedy and foments another, far greater.
The opening night of The Dallas Opera’s Rigoletto was a stunning spectacular that left none disappointed. The stage was populated with massive set pieces that executed graceful, silent and apparently inexorable on-stage transformations. It’s a tribute to the actors that they can perform on such a high level while the floors and walls are moving about them. So much so, I only noticed a single misstep between the performers and the sets. The beauty of the sets was brought to life in a fantastic lighting scheme that altered the scene with a subtlety that matched the movements of the giant set pieces. The stage moved with pools of light and shadow in a manner that draws the eye towards the action. The combined effect of these disparate elements allowed the audience to be seamlessly transported from a brightly lit courtyard of Act I to the stormy, nightmare night of Act III. The scenes at the home of Rigoletto seemed to mirror colors from the palettes of the Dutch Masters. Another starring moment for the scenery was the dream like specter of the Count Monterone appearing in the background as Rigoletto recognizes that the Count’s curse is bearing fruit. The dark red box holding the Count menaced above with the walls apparently closing in, to create a startling tableau of Rigoletto’s anguish.
In the realm of historical drama brilliant costumes are de rigueur and the Dallas Opera more than meets that challenge. Like motion picture special effects, the best costuming serves as an invisible building block to the story and not as a gaudy distraction. The costumes in Rigoletto serve that purpose well. Beautiful, brilliant and seamlessly interwoven into an enchanting story. From the colorful courtiers to a rough-hewn scallywag, the costuming admirably served the story, rather than itself.
The performances of the artists were mesmerizing. Baritone Paulo Gavanelli, as the titular character, performed with an authority that spoke of a great depth of experience. It is obviously a role he has performed many times. A very physical performer his masked consternation at his daughters kidnappers was projected in a particularly heartfelt manner.
A fine performance by Tenor James Valenti as he delivered a Duke of Mantua that might be best described as smarmy. Perhaps as feather-headed as he finds the women he enchants there is an undercurrent of insidiousness in Valenti’s Duke. It’s an irony that the curse he has loosed should miss his own head and fall more fully on the misshapen shoulders of his Buffoon. I was also taken by the profound menace that must have been delivered to every seat of the house by Bass Raymond Aceto as Sparafucile.
The audience reserved its greatest adulation for Soprano Laura Claycomb’s Gilda. The enthusiasm for her performance was palpable and by curtain call those around me seemed primed to leap to their feet as they waited for her to appear. She delivered a remarkable performance. Singing quite forcefully while lying apparently quite languidly. Even though she is making her debut at the Dallas Opera she performed supine with the aplomb of a seasoned professional.
The performance at the Winspear was a brilliant spectacle that I would readily re-live, so the small technical issues may be happily overlooked. From my seat in the Mezzanine, right of center, there were a couple of occasions when the orchestra overwhelmed the performers on stage. This same seat suffered from another anomaly, an errant beam from one of the lights used to generate lightening. I hope it’s not snooty to suggest applying a snoot to that particular light. I also found I had a problem with the Supertitles. They suffered from a series of unexplained gaps and pauses that may have been an attempt to reduce repetitious lyrics but was more likely a tardy button finger. There is an argument that Supertitles are an intrusion but if they are going to be used there’s an obligation to keep them right on top of the correct dialogue. The translation also varies significantly from my old Rigoletto libretto (Mea Culpa for the avoidable rhyme). They may be modernized for clarity however I found some of the choices questionable. The shameless tribute to misogyny, La Donna e mobile, is easily one of the most performed Canzoni throughout the world. While ‘women are fickle’ might be contextually correct, the more traditional “Women are flighty’ may represent a closer translation to Francesco Maria Piave’s original intent.
The Dallas Opera has presented an essential piece of the operatic oeuvre and have done the work justice. I also have a review for a very small portion of the patrons in attendance that opening night. I suppose attire is a function of contemporary social mores so I will reserve comment. However had I known what was currently considered acceptable evening wear I would have simply donned jeans and a Polo instead of my uncomfortable and ill-fitting suit. Leaving the theater at the end of the performance, that same mis-togged group of people, packed into a crowd that would do justice to a Tokyo subway. I witnessed one patron shoving his body onto the lady in front of him with a temerity that can only be described as mashing.
Finally I’d like to address the fear that I have sitting in the audience. Twenty years ago it was the cough. During some poignant pianissimo passage, one patron would cough. Then another, and another in a different part of the audience. Until a self propagating wave of coughter and throat clearing rolled through the hall. Today I am amazed to find that fear has been replaced, rendered quaint, by that new terror, the telephone. There were only two phone calls I heard during the actual performance, shamefully they sounded like they were received by the same patron. No less disturbing are patrons who decide that they can subtly text during the performance, oblivious to the fact that it blinds their neighbors. I could guess the seat number of the patrons two rows in front of me but suffice it to say my comments are directed to them, and their ilk. The one benefit from the omnipresent phone, it turns all into burgeoning Avedons and Eisenstaedts. It’s quite amusing to see people in their finery willing to shuck a little dignity to sneak behind the ushers and digitally document their big night out. Suddenly transformed to high schoolers at a rock concert, sneaking photos and shaky, unwatchable videos.
It was a wonderful performance, virtually without flaw. Laura Claycomb is a voice from Texas certain to rise to international acclaim. Sadly, for a very small portion of your audience, it was pearls before swine.