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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Florentine Opera Presents ‘Rigoletto’

Intense drama in Verdi’s first great opera

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For many aficionados, Rigoletto serves as the blueprint for what a great opera is all about. It appeals equally to the most patrician and plebeian tastes, yet remains firmly rooted in the sultry, ribald warmth of Verdi’s Italian homeland, merging grassroots earnestness with blood-and-guts intensity. Its catchy melodies remaininvulnerable to bad performances. Verdi is very much a man for those who love the human basics of opera in all of its social and psychological verisimilitude.

Rigoletto, Verdi’s first great opera, never deviates from that familiar pattern characterizing Italian opera at its most melodious. Yet Rigoletto stands apart as an archetypeof Verdi’s format at its most dramatically intense. Although it includes Verdi’s all-too-familiar introductory oom-pah-pah beat followed by his customary pattern of solo-duet-quartet-chorus succession, Rigoletto is far more subtle—a finely chiseled work with barely a superfluous passage. Its tunefulness almost belies the tragic tale of a hunchbacked court jester who bears ridicule and abuse to protect the innocence of his secretly sequestered daughter. Rigoletto’spristine economy only serves to heighten a warmer musical framework encompassing greater emotional depth than his previous work. First produced in 1851 (and based on a Victor Hugo novel), it became an instant success. The licentious Duke’s signature tune, “La Donna e Mobile,” was sung in the streets the day after the premiere.

The brief but ominous introduction to Rigolettotells us this is a work to be reckoned with. A court scene introduces the Duke’s famous aria, “Questa o Quella,” followed bythe soon-to-be-executed Monterone laying a curse on the misshapen mocking jester, Rigoletto. That curse will begin to haunt Rigoletto and sets the tone for the rest of the act that concludes with the opera’s first great aria, “Pari siamo.”

The Duke, in disguise, has become infatuated with Rigoletto’s hapless daughter, Gilda, who returns his ardor in the familiar coloratura aria, “Caro Nome.” The father-daughter duets that followare musically simple and guileless, counter-pointing Rigoletto’s few moments of tenderness with the graphic musical intensity accompanying his later resolve to murder the lecherous Duke. With the kidnapping of Gilda and the conflicting contrasts in Verdi’s riveting score, the act ends with Rigoletto’s frantic cry
of“maledizione.”

Emotionally Engulfing

Great operas are defined by great moments coming together in climactic configurations that guide the drama to a final resolution designed to engulf the audience emotionally. Rigoletto’ssecond act introduces a desperate jester whose pitiful cries of la-la-la fool no one as he searches for his daughter. Finally, the increasing musical tension erupts into Rigoletto’s magnificent aria denouncing the corrupt courtiers who have turned over his not unwilling daughter to the Duke. A repentant though ravished Gilda wants no retribution. She still loves the Duke, but her father will have none of it, ignoring the malediction andhiring Sparafucile to kill the Duke.

The irony of the conclusion reiterates the conflicting subtleties of Verdi’s characterizations, yet the score remains brisk and economic. The Duke is not evil and Gilda’s passions are more mature than suspected. She gives her life for her lover during one of Verdi’s most ominous trios in a stormy night scene with an untypical eerie offstage humming chorus to underline the foreboding of Rigoletto’s final undoing.

Rigoletto returns to listen in surprised horror to the unwitting Duke’s background refrain of “La Donnae Mobile.” The jester’s revenge has come full circle, destroying the one he treasures most as he screams “Maledizione!” for the last time in this magnificent score.

William Florescu, general director of the Florentine Opera, will direct Rigoletto at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, May 21-23. As a strong proponent of modern and unusual operas, Florescu promises a refreshing new take on this venerated classic, following the recent, energizing experience of producing the vividly contemporary Elmer Gantry. Costumes and decor will be newly designed in an attractive traditional décor. Rigolettowill be sung alternately by newcomers Luis Ledesma and Peter Castaldi, with Georgia Jarman returning to the Florentine as Gilda. The performance promises to be outstanding.