Duke of Mantua with Gilda photo Oliver Domenchini; other photos Andree Lanthier
Photo of John Avey by Andree Lanthier

Pacific Opera Victoria

by Giuseppe Verdi

Dates 20, 22, 25, 27, 29 April 2006 at 20.00 Venue Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton Street, Victoria

Conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia Director Tom Diamond

Duke of Mantua Luc Robert Gilda Lambroula Maria Pappas Rigoletto John Avey Sparafucile Alain Coulombe Monterone Andrew Greenwood Maddalena Jean Stilwell

Reviewer J. H. Stape

Rigoletto for all its dated morality, melodramatic stagey-ness, and simple villains and victims remains a powerful theatrical experience. This staging by Pacific Opera Victoria, the closing production of its highly successful 2005-06 season, opts for staging the opera in Verdi's time, still remote from our own but wholly succeeding in pulling us into the tragedy of the hunchback and his daughter, who both love not wisely but too well.

Pacific Opera Victoria, as per usual, has assembled a fine cast of actor-singers who breathe life into their roles. The keynote of this rewarding production is high drama, and everyone delivers, with even the minor characters richly filled in.

John Avey's Rigoletto was brilliantly detailed both vocally and dramatically, a sense of edginess and even neurosis given to his obsession with this daughter, the bright star in his otherwise tortured existence as sycophant and clown to a cynical philanderer. His "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" was spat out with venom, and his tender scenes with Gilda, exquisitely sung by the beautiful Lambroula Maria Pappas, near heart-breaking.

Luc Robert's duke might have benefitted with a bit more panache in the acting category, but was finely sung, his lyric tenor -- and what an Italianate sound he has -- especially impressive in its creamily beautiful middle voice. There was some unnecessary forcing on a couple high notes, but this was nonetheless a distinguished performance, with a polished "La donna è mobile."

The smaller roles were cast like festival opera: Alain Coulombe's deep basso and breath control as Sparafucile were nothing short of wondrous, and Jean Stilwell in the small role of sexy Maddalena, his sister, gave a nicely characterized performance, unstinting in both her smoky-voiced pity and paid-for-favours.

The orchestra, under Giuseppe Pietraroia, played brightly, the score's details lovingly brought out by the crisp and passionate direction. The Italian character of the score has never sounded more authentic or idiomatic.

The staging might have offered more contrast with a more brightly lit first act, and Monterone's re-entrance was awkwardly managed, but almost everything worked, and the production was particularly effective in the murder scene (done to eerie stobe light, with Gilda's throat rapidly slashed). A happy inspiration was bringing her back as a spirit, while Rigoletto despairingly caressed her lifeless body (a doll nicely stood in for Gilda singing from above). This is usually a moment ruined by a modern audience howling with laughter when the girl, more than half dead, somehow manages to trill to her death. In this case, Rigoletto's final "La maledizione!" (The curse!) was breathtaking in its intensity.

Intelligence, sensitivity, and commitment were the watchwords of this fine performance of an old chestnut, and anyone seeing Rigoletto for the first time or the tenth would have learned something about opera at its most intense. And as to that, Pacific Opera Victoria -- a bright star in Canada's operatic firmament -- certainly knows how to do it.

© 2006 J. H. Stape