Verdi’s Rigoletto

Dates and Venue 7, 10, 12, 14 & 17 March 2009 at 7.30pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Rigoletto Donnie Ray Albert Gilda Eglise Gutierrez Duke Bruce Sledge Sparafucile Kirk Eichelberger Maddalena Norine Burgess

Conductor Leslie Dala Director Glynis Leyshon Scenic design Bretta Geracke Lighting Harry Frehner Stage manager Sheila Munn

Sung in Italian with English surtitles

Reviewer John Jane

Of all the operas composed in the mid-nineteenth century, Giuseppe Verdi’s taut tragedy, Rigoletto with its colourful characters and eternal themes of vengeance, passion and lost innocence is the one that best translates to a modern telling. It was perhaps with this in mind that Glynis Leyshon conceived this allegorical staging with an elevated platform and round-the-stage weldmesh fencing more closely resembling the urban landscape of a production of West Side Story than an opera set in sixteenth-century Italy.

The opera, originally named La Maledizione, but later changed to that of its central character Rigoletto, a master of bad karma, is densely packed with the most awesome arias and ensembles and filled with curses and ironic twists.

Donnie Ray Albert is masterful as the ambiguous Rigoletto who, like many brilliant comedians that came after, offends as many as he amuses. Though not having to perform a single aria, Mr Albert still demonstrates remarkable vocal stamina, being involved directly with two-thirds of the numbers in Verdi’s vibrant score. Albert’s stage presence is little short of phenomenal. He simultaneously draws the audience’s sympathy and revulsion with his phantasm of the jester’s lumbering gait.

Sex addiction, coupled with the power and position to indulge such a fixation can be a lethal mix. Tenor Bruce Sledge shows off the expected swagger as the hedonistic Duke of Mantua and likely shouldn’t be blamed for the lack of narcissism given to the character. His cavalier vocals on his signature aria, La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle) and the third act quartet Bella figlia dell'amore (Sweet daughter of love) with Rigoleeto, Gilda and Maddalena are delivered with gusto.

Cuban-American soprano, Eglise Gutierrez, in her Vancouver Opera debut, gives an impassioned performance of Gilda, Rigoletto’s cataclysmically over-protected daughter and the third participant in this tragic triangle. She delivers the bel canto aria, Caro nome with pristine tone and expression, for which she received, deserved instant and sustained applause. Dramatically, she successfully personifies the childlike innocence and pious demeanour of a young girl torn between obedience to her father and the fervour of first love.

In smaller, though no less significant roles, Kirk Eichelberger as a sinister Sparafucile and gorgeous mezzo-soprano, Norine Burgess as his bewitching sister and accomplice Maddalena, are stylishly effective.

The Vancouver Opera Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Leslie Dala is note-perfect and especially compelling in their interpretation of the harrowing thunderstorm in the final act.

Members of Vancouver Opera Chorus in the roles of courtiers and silent carnival characters add much to the entertainment factor throughout the performance, especially when singing in Verdi’s comic style used in vivid contrast to the darker colours of his score.

Rigoletto’s tale ends as we all know it must - in tragedy. But as we witness the vengeful jester’s rage slip away with Gilda’s life, we see that the consequence of revenge is not reparation, but the loss of what is held most dear. And what, you ask, became of the lecherous Duke? Like many in the audience, he went home happy.

© 2009 John Jane