Gordon Hawkins as Rigoletto. Photo by Tim Matheson
Simone Osborne as Gilda; Bruce Sledge as the Duke of Mantua. Photo by Tim Matheson


Gordon Hawkins as Rigoletto. Photo by Tim MathesonVancouver Opera
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Le roi s'amuse by Victor Hugo

Dates and Venue September 26, October 1 & 3 at 7.30 pm & October 4 at 2 pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Rigoletto Gordon Hawkins Duke of Mantua Bruce Sledge Gilda Simone Osbourne Sparafucile Matthew Trevino Maddalena Carolyn Sproule Giovanna Francesca Corrado

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Nancy Hermiston Lighting Designer John Webber Chorus Director Leslie Dala Stage Manager Kate Porter

In Italian with English SURTITLES™

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

You can’t go wrong with Verdi.  His work is so direct and straight to the heart that it catches the casual listener as surely as the musicologist, so skilful, thoughtful and humane that highbrow and lowbrow can enjoy it equally.

Rigoletto is a terrific option to open an opera season.  One of Verdi’s best, it also touches the modern aesthetic, showcasing casual cruelty, a hateful attitude towards women by men, and an anti-hero who is as unpleasant as his tormentors.  If Vancouver Opera is trying to attract a younger audience, of the classic works this is surely the opera of choice.   Furthermore, they have made an excellent job of it.

The murky plot, set during the Renaissance at the court of the womanising Duke of Mantua, grows more complicated as the opera progresses, but it starts simply enough. The hunchback Rigoletto (Gordon Hawkins) is jester at the court, favoured by his Duke (Bruce Sledge) but hated by the courtiers who are frequently the butt of his cruel witticisms. Furthermore, he encourages the Duke in his debauching of the courtiers' wives and daughters. Rigoletto’s own daughter, Gilda (Simone Osborne), is secretly kept at home by her father but she has seen and been seen by the Duke at church. In this poisonous atmosphere, Rigoletto’s love for his daughter and hatred at the world grow obsessive and explode in tragedy.

Gordon Hawkins has a powerful presence and a voice to match. His strong and supple baritone showed caressing, velvet tones with Gilda, genuine hatred at the courtiers, an unsettled, disturbed soul when haunted by the curse of Count Monterone (Cameron McPhail), one of the Count's, and Rigoletto's, victims.

As the insouciant Duke who knows full well what a cad he is, Bruce Sledge lacked the magnetism that causes women to forgive anything. Nevertheless, his performance of a powerful man in command was solid and convincing. He delivered the famous, catchy, ironic signature tune given to the Duke by Verdi, ‘La donna è mobile’ (Women are fickle)with an elegant lightness which was especially chilling in its reprise near the end of the opera when Rigoletto realizes the body in the sack is not the Duke's.

Young enough to be a believable innocent yet mature enough to rise to Verdi’s demands, Simone Osborne applied considerable intelligence and care in investing Gilda with a strong character arc. Almost childlike at first, filled with the fervour of first love, this Gilda has personality from the start. She also has considerable rapport with her partners. The duet with the Duke ‘E il sol dell'anima’ (Love is the sunshine of the soul) was graceful and mesmerising, the two voices blending perfectly into one. With Gordon Hawkins also there was a strong, credible and complex relationship, both loving and independent. Her transformation at the end, dressed as a boy and determined to sacrifice her life for her lover’s, was as inevitable as it was tragic. Add to this a clear and passionate soprano voice. Here is a Gilda to watch.

Burnaby's own Francesca Corrado turned in a very good performance as Giovanna, singiing and acting well. Both Matthew Trevino (the assassin Sparafucile) and his sister (Carolyn Sproule) brought distinct character to their parts in contrast to the undifferentiated noblemen. The all male Opera Chorus, apart from a few flashes of venom and violence, were a steady and reliable group of courtiers.

The Vancouver Opera Orchestra under Jonathan Darlington played with all the verve and colour of a Renaissance painting in counterpoint to the impressively staid set from Utah Opera, lit by John Webber, and Nancy Hermiston’s clear and economical yet static stage direction.

© 2015 Elizabeth Paterson