Saturday December 16th 2017

“Rigoletto” reviewed by Jacob Davis

Highly Recommended ***** Pretty much everyone who loves opera loves Rigoletto, and in the new-to-Chicago production directed by E. Loren Meeker now at the Lyric Opera, the characters’ vivacity matches that of Verdi’s dramatic, horn-heavy music. Quinn Kelsey and Rosa Feola, as father and daughter pair Rigoletto and Gilda, set their considerable vocal skills to work in service of their captivating acting. The connection they and the other cast members forge with the audience works on a familiar human level even amid the Victor Hugo-inspired melodramatic story and the fast-paced music of conductor Marco Armiliato’s orchestra.

We first see Rigoletto lurch onto set designer Michael Yeargan’s extremely raked stage. The city of Mantua looks extremely precarious, as if disaster could strike at any minute. Rigoletto is the hunchbacked jester of the ruling Duke (Matthew Polenzani), but rather than whimsical or satirical, he is simply cruel. He’s fit for the court, in that sense—the we see a nobleman named Monterone’s daughter getting dragged around by the hair—but Rigoletto makes the viciousness of the court a little too obvious and the nobles all hate him. When Monterone (Todd Thomas) enters, Rigoletto uses his daughter as a human shield while ridiculing him, all the while pawing at and shoving her. At least when Monterone curses him and the Duke, Rigoletto looks properly ashamed of himself, and remains in a panicky mire of defensiveness, fear, and guilt for most of the remainder of the opera.

Kelsey is in top form here; Lyric followers will remember him in recent years as other tormented characters in Lucia di Lammermoor and Il trovatore, but now he gets to shine in a title role. Equally charismatic are his scene partners. During her aria “Caro nome,” soprano Feola seems to float as high as her voice as Gilda rides out her delight at being promised the love of the disguised Duke. Her singing won the audience’s hearts, but so, too, did the choices Feola, Kelsey, and Meeker made about the father-daughter relationship. Gilda is clearly alarmed by how possessive and unstable her father is and deliberately brings out his better nature by changing the topic of conversation to her mother. Her awareness of his shortcomings adds more significance to her choices later on, while helping us to understand why she is so eager to join a different home. Wretched though he’s been toward everybody, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Rigoletto during his anguished “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,” after Gilda has been kidnapped and he’s willing to prostrate himself before his enemies to rescue her. Of course, he finds new life during his duet “Si vendetta, tremeda vendetta,” during which he returns to ignoring her wishes in one of Verdi’s many upbeat songs about anticipating revenge.

The supporting cast, dressed in dark magentas and maroons by costume designer Constance Hoffman, certainly put their stamp on this Mantua, as well. With the bouncy aria “Questa o quella” Polenzani establishes the Duke as a jovial authoritarian, and he makes wickedness seem like even more light-hearted fun later with the famously seductive “La donna è mobile.” Alexander Tsymbalyuk and Zanda Švēde are making their Lyric debuts as the assassin Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena. Their storm scene with Gilda is as exciting as anything onstage and is the payoff for a tremendous build-up of energy by Armilliato and the musicians. Mario Rojas, Takaoki Onishi, and Alan Higgs, as courtiers, lead a menacing chorus which embodies the casual cruelty of Rigoletto’s world while forming some striking stage pictures. The stylization of the production’s visual elements is always in service of the psychological state of the characters, enriching our understanding of this ever-popular material.

Rigoletto will continue at the Civic Opera House, 20 N Upper Wacker Drive, Chicago, thru November 3, with the following showtimes:

October 11          2:00 pm

October 14          7:30 pm

October 19          7:30 pm

October 22          2:00 pm

October 26          2:00 pm

October 30          7:30 pm

November 3       7:30 pm

Running time is two and a half hours.

The Lyric offers parking deals with Poetry Garage at 201 W Madison St. if inquired about in advance. Tickets are $20-299; to order, visit LyricOpera.org or call 321-827-5600.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Rigoloetto.”

 

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