Dallas, TX – In its second season at the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, the Dallas Opera presented the opening night of Rigoletto on March 25, 2011. Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, was based on a play by Victor Hugo. Rigoletto originally opened in 1851 in Venice.
Maestro Pietro Rizzo, who received his master’s degree in Violin Performance from Dallas’ own Southern Methodist University, conducted. Harry Silverstein, Stage Director, has directed several contemporary works, including those by Phillip Glass. Mr. Silberstein’s superb stage direction helped make this nineteenth century opera riveting and meaningful to modern audiences. Michael Yeargan designed the stunning set. The expressive costumed were designed by Peter Hall.
Internationally acclaimed Italian baritone, Paolo Gavanelli performed title role expertly. Mr. Gavanelli has a mournful pathos to his voice, which compelled sympathy from the audience. Dallas native, Soprano Laura Claycomb, played Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda. It is a role she has played internationally in several acclaimed opera houses. Her clear soprano voice lent a poignant innocence to the role. Tenor James Valenti played the lecherous Duke of Mantua. Dashing and seductive, he sang with confidence.
The Dallas Opera’s enthralling production of Rigoletto captured the helplessness of a lower class, whose lives were cursed by the whims of bored courtiers. Rage was the only weapon against this tyranny and a completely useless one. This is a universal story of a father who has seen the horrors of an oppressive society and who desperately tries to protect his innocent, naive daughter.
A deformed hunchback, Rigoletto has only one choice to support himself and his only daughter; he must be the jester to the Duke of Mantua and hurl sarcastic insults to whomever the Duke commands.
In his modest, private home, Rigoletto is a different man. He is a tender father to Gilda and mourns the loss of his wife, Gilda’s mother. Having seen the brutish entertainment of the courts firsthand, Rigoletto wants to shield his daughter. He refuses to let her leave their modest home, except to go to church. She naively falls in love with a handsome man she sees at church, unaware this is the Duke.
The focus of this production was the tender relationship between Rigoletto and Gilda. Their scenes were downstage as they were bathed in warm light, often while other characters were in shadowy light.
The curtain opened onto a large mural of a deep blackish-blue storm over hills and a lake. The mural was made of concentric proscenium arches. During the overture, the center square opened to reveal a shockingly red center with a tortured Rigoletto, as he put on his jester costume. It takes a strong actor to display such depths of emotion without words and Mr. Gavanelli delivered. Gavanelli depicted a grown man tortured by circumstances and forced to wear the demeaning costume of court jester.
In the home scene, Rigoletto and Gilda interact only with each other, the lights on them as Giovanna (Quinn Patrick) sits alone in shadow, waiting and looking out the window. As Rigoletto and Gilda sing of their love for each other, one could not help but wonder why Giovanna sits staring out the window. What or whom is she expecting? When the Duke appears and gives Giovanna a bag of money, it becomes clear she has been expecting the Duke, having long ago planned the betrayal.
Gilda, thinking the Duke is a poor student, falls in love with him. She sings Caro nome with breathtaking innocence and joy of first love. She sings the notes not merely as exercises in the singers’ ability to execute them, but an outgrowing of the emotion of a young innocent in love for the first time. A particularly impressive moment was when Ms. Claycomb sang the highest notes of the aria while lying on her back.
After her seduction, Gilda runs to her father, wrapped in a heavy blanket with the Duke’s crest on it. She is no longer herself, but covered in the Duke’s identity.
Why did the opera open with a dark, stormy mural? Why did the mural center open onto a tortured Rigoletto bathed in light and standing in a bright red box? Was this his prison? Did the director want to show Rigoletto imprisoned in the degrading stunts he had to perform at court?
Why was Giovanna waiting at the window? Was she eager to betray her charge or desperate for the money the Duke would bring? Was she desperate for money because Rigoletto had so little to give her?
In Act Three, the Duke visits the inn of the assassin, Sparafucile. Bass Raymond Aceto lent a frighteningly eeriness to the role. When the Duke enters, he commands Sparafucile to bring his sister, Maddalena (Kirstin Chavez). They comply. Why were Sparafucile and Maddalena agreeable to accommodate the Duke’s debauchery? Were they desperate for his money, too? Later, after Sparafucile accepts money to kill the Duke, Maddalena begs her brother to spare the Duke’s life. Were they thinking of sparing his life out of concern for him or did they want to get more money out of him?
Rigoletto also showcased the work of Resident Artist, tenor Aaron Blake. Mr. Blake sang as one of the fickle courtiers, a role he learned in only two days.
The Dallas Opera’s production of Rigoletto is a poignant examination of class. The poorer classes resorted to desperate measures in order to survive yet were crushed by those attempts. Curses upon Rigoletto did not seem mythical, but a harsh commentary of class and oppression.