Rigoletto, Manitoba Opera

three-performances were held November 24through 30, 2012 at Winnipeg’s
Centennial Concert Hall.

Based on Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse (The King
Amuses Himself), the three-act opera composed in 1851 is considered one of
Verdi’s greatest works also including his (slightly) later Il
and La Traviata. Its complicated plot set in 16th
century Mantua revolves around hunchbacked court jester Rigoletto, torn between
defending his cherished only daughter Gilda’s virtue and avenging the
lascivious Duke of Mantua who has dishonoured her. But — like any good
opera — it also firmly posits the redemptive power of love as well as
becomes its own cautionary tale about the vicious games people play.

Any piece of theatre is often only as good as its casting. In this case, a
stellar choice of leads directed by former Winnipegger Robert Herriot created a
strong production with nary a weak link onstage. Realistic sets designed by
Lawrence Schafer (New Orleans Opera) depicting the opera’s respective
locales of castle, house and inn helped create effective stage pictures —
including a striking opening tableau for the opening party/orgy scene. MO music
advisor/principal conductor Tyrone Paterson sensitively led the Winnipeg
Symphony Orchestra throughout the three-hour evening.

American baritone Todd Thomas’ powerhouse performance as the
white-faced, sunken-eyed jester showcased not only his booming voice, but
equally mesmerizing acting ability. He subtly nuanced his title character with
every emotional shade imaginable, turning instantly on a dime from bitter
pitifulness during Act I aria “Pari siamo!” — including
self-flagellating while decrying his deformity — to hell-bent fury
against all those who torment him.

Winnipeg’s musical treasure, world-class colouratura soprano Tracy
Dahl also triumphed in the role of Gilda. The petite singer with a
stratospheric voice hit just the right note with her not-so-innocent character
desperately longing for love and freedom. Her electrifying Caro Nome, with each
note crafted as a multi-faceted jewel rightfully earned sustained applause from
the audience. Dahl’s effortlessly sung Act II aria “Tutte le feste
al tempio” also displayed her innate gifts as a singing actress, as did
touching finale “Chi mai, chi Ë qui in sua vece?” where she
tearfully begs her father for forgiveness.

Newfoundland tenor David Pomerory imbued his lecherous Duke with hotheaded
passion and wanton playfulness. He projected his deeply resonant voice well
beyond the footlights in opening “Questa o quello´, as well as during Act
II’s intricate quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore´ sung with
Dahl, Thomas and South African-Canadian mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal as seductive
harlot Maddalena. Pomerory also filled the opera’s eternally famous aria
La donna Ë mobile with swaggering confidence and ringing high notes that
becomes key to its tragic dÈnouement.

American bass Peter Volpe double-cast as the villainous Count Monterone and
assassin Sparafucile created an intriguing doppelg‰nger worthy of further
contemplation. Volpe’s thunderous curse on the jester as the Count during
Act I’s ”Ch’io gli parli” would make anyone collapse in fear.
His slithery hit man included his declamatory voice sinking to the utter depths
in “Quel vecchio maledivami!”

An all-male ensemble from the MO Chorus prepared by Tadeusz Biernacki
presented as the velvety-courtiers, crisply enunciating choruses Zitti, ziti
and later Possente amor mi chiama. But as pranksters who ultimately drive the
action by goading the jester, they often appeared too courtly-mannered, with
their relatively stiff staging bypassing many golden opportunities to show
their true, nasty stripes.

Bill Williams’ lighting design proved mostly effective despite Act
III’s wild storm flashes that appeared too stylized in an otherwise
traditional production. And Dahl — especially when costumed in her drab
boy’s disguise in the final scene virtually disappeared into the shadows
during trio “Ah, pi˘ non ragiono!” where she vows to sacrifice
herself for her lover.

It might seem a no-brainer for Manitoba Opera to program an entire season of
Verdi’s works, especially during its milestone anniversary season that
also includes Aida next spring. The composer’s intensely dramatic operas
still resonate — for better or worse — with 21st century audiences.
Still, MO has made a wise choice in Rigoletto, with its particularly strong
cast fearlessly delivering this timeless and ever-tragic tale.

Holly Harris

here for cast and production information.

image_description=Tracy Dahl as Gilda and Todd Thomas as Rigoletto [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]
product_title=Rigoletto, Manitoba Opera
product_by=A review by Holly Harris
product_id=Above: Tracy Dahl as Gilda and Todd Thomas as Rigoletto [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]