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It’s been some busy times, plus some illness and holidays. I hope to get caught up with the more important observations within the next few days.

I’d already began a review of Seattle’s Opera’s Rigoletto, so that’s where I’ll pick up. The production has closed, and we saw it on Jan 22, but finishing it kicked my dust off, so here it is, better late than never. Due to time constraints, tho, I’m not scanning or posting the program cover:

This is a critical season for the Seattle Opera: it’s celebrating its 50 anniversary, and it’s also the final season with Speight Jenkins as General Director. Mr. Jenkins is retiring after 30 years.

He wanted to go out with in a big way and leave Seattle with a going-away present, so he set up a season of powerful, high-profile productions.

The most recent one is a first-rate staging of Guiseppi Verdi’s masterpiece ‘Rigoletto‘. And don’t just take my word that the opera is Verdi’s greatest work: Igor Stravinski himself said so, over a century ago, so who am I to argue? Neither Jenkins nor the Seattle Opera seem to disagree either, nor do the Seattle audiences.

The libretto itself veers into standard melodrama. The young girl, Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter, is sweet, innocent, lovely, incorruptible. In other words, a typical operatic heroine, and she sacrifices herself out of love for the wrong man–very Romantic, in the original sense. She also spends five minutes singing and dying, in the way that only people in opera can do. But most of those plot machinations don’t appear until the third act. Until then, the story moves along fairly tautly, and is driven fairly well by characterization.

This part is important, because Linda Brovsky, the stage director, moved the story from Renaissance Mantua, Italy, to the 1930’s, when Fascism was taking over Italy. All too often, updating operas for the sake of “relevance” leads to glaring anachronisms or behavior not typical of the time period, leading to an even greater suspension of belief than usual for opera.

But Brovsky, according to the interview in the program publication Encore, found her inspiration from that time period, citing, as she said, similarities in the political corruption of both periods. And it works. Rigoletto is not, in this case, strictly a “court jester” per se, but is a member of the court. We’re able to believe that he’s considered the jester based on his penchant for abrasive, almost abusive, mockery of those around him.

Fortunately, the staging isn’t the only aspect that works. The entire production delivers the highest standards in staging, direction and and performance, especially the performances.

For this one, the Seattle Opera brought in mostly familiar faces, except for Nadine Sierra, as Gilda (in the performance we saw). Hers is probably the most emotionally complex role, since Gilda needs to be innocent, wistful, loyal, faithful, and, at the end, noble and romantic. She negotiates all those heights and valleys with a strong, clear voice and every bit of confidence. Interestingly enough, her next upcoming role is also Gilda with the Boston Lyric Opera’s own Rigoletto. She’s ably supported the entire cast, especially Francesco Demuro as the Duke, Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto, and the bass Andrea Silvestrilli as the assassin Sparafucile. He’s a Wagnerian bass, having sung Fasolt and Hunding in Seattle Opera‘s most recent Ring Cycle, and it shows. His first aria ends with a low, extended note which brought gasps and cheers from the audience.

Despite the classically tragic end of the tale, and its portrayal of so many consistently unlikeable characters, the audience left feeling elated. Verdi‘s skill is such that he delivers triumph out of tragedy.

Another finely-crafted notch in Seattle Opera’s belt this season. Their next production, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul, a Seattle Opera premier. After the auspicious seasonal debut with Rigoletto, the expectations are high for this one. And we probably won’t be disappointed.

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