The costumes, sets, staging, lighting and of course, the singing, were magnificent. The opera opens with a scene almost breathtaking in its contrast between dress and undress, conveying a powerful sense of immorality. The sets were remarkable deriving from one huge rotating tower. This provided a sumptuous palatial room which when turned slightly first became a street scene and then Rigoletto's rooms.
Frank Lopardo portrayed the Duke as a lecherous cad convincingly with his voice and gestures He laments the loss of Gilda (who has been abducted) with his aria, 'Ella mi fu rapita' which is tender and haunting in contrast to the swaggering feel of 'La Donna e` Mobile' in which he showers his attentions on Maddalena, the assassins' worldly and attractive sister. Beth Clayton is a captivating, Maddelana and her assassin brother, Sparafucile, an honorable killer, is portrayed by Andrea Silvestrelli. The performance was high drama and riveting from beginning to end.
The drama of Rigoleto's emergence as an opera rivals the story Rigoletto, the opera, tells. This is a story that begins in 1832 when, after a single performance, Victor Hugo's play, 'Le Roi s'amuse was closed down by the Minister of Public Works in Paris because of curses and insults in the text and the portrayal of royalty as corrupt. Giuseppe Verdi, age thirty-seven began writing a new work (his sixteenth) for the 1850-51 season of Venice's La Fenice theater, and saw great operatic potential in the Hugo play. He requested his librettist, Francesco Piave, to 'turn Venice upside down to make the censors permit this subject.'
However, the censors (police) strongly objected to the opera first named 'La maledizione (the curse) on moral grounds but Venice was under Austrian control, and police feared a plot showing a monarch in an unfavorable light might provoke demonstrations. So the king, Francis 1, becomes the Duke of Mantua and the hunchback jester, Tribolet, becomes Rigoletto, The basic story is kept intact with changes of names and places.
In the Lyric Opera's Director's Note, Rigoletto is 'isolated in an ironic, seemingly schizophrenic condition: on the one hand the corrupt court, on the other a father characterized by a devouring and selfish love' ..The Duke's sole purpose in life is to appease he thirst for conquest' .Gilda is a twofold victim, cheated as an offended, wounded, youthful lover but also the object of the perverse power wielded by her father ' betrayal in love and paternal selfishness kill her.'
Basically, Rigoletto is an opera filled with curses and irony. At a ball in the Ducal Palace, Rigoletto taunts Count Ceprano whose wife is the victim of the Duke's roving eye. Monterone, whose daughter was seduced by the duke bursts in and calls a curse on the Duke and on Rigoletto. Through trickery, Rigoletto's daughter, Gilda, is carried off and seduced by the Duke. Rigoletto plots revenge through use of an assassin, Sparafucile and his sister, Maddalena When Rigeletto discovers that it is Gilda and not the Duke that has been fatally stabbed, the curse has been fulfilled.
The Civic Opera House, where Rigolleto can currently be seen, dates from 1929. It is one of the most beautiful in North America and the sound quality is superb.
If you are fortunate, you may be able to get a ticket by contacting 312-332-2244 or www.lyricopera.org
Photos by Robert Kusel and Dan Rest