This Rigoletto will leave you cold

Despite some fine performances, Christopher Alden's Canadian Opera Company production is a cerebral affair that has as much passion as a sack of mud

RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to February 23. $22-$350. 416-363-8231. See listing. Rating: NN

Verdi’s dark-hued Rigoletto should grab you by the emotions and never let go, leaving you a quivering, sobbing mess by the final scenes.

Alas, the Canadian Opera Company’s production, directed by Christopher Alden, is a purely cerebral affair. Despite some talented singers, and a sudden relevance with the #MeToo movement, this opera has as much passion as a sack of mud.

Much of the blame stems from Michael Levine’s set, which reproduces, from the roaring fireplace to the leather club chairs, an old-school men’s club. This is where the Duke’s (Stephen Costello) courtiers and jester, Rigoletto (Roland Wood), entertain themselves by securing women for their boss.

All is a misogynistic laugh riot until the tables are turned and Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda (Anna Christy), becomes the Duke’s next victim.

The problem isn’t Levine’s handsome set – on first blush, it’s impressive in its opulent details – but the fact that Alden makes every act take part in the club, even though the opera calls for different settings, including Rigoletto’s home and a sleazy inn run by murderer Sparafucile (Goderdzi Janelidze) and his sister, Maddalena (Carolyn Sproule).

There’s the suggestion that the entire tragedy could be taking place in Rigoletto’s mind. Certainly the fact that characters often lie supine while singing their arias adds to the dreamlike feel. But it also adds to the production’s soporific quality.

This high concept production might have worked had Alden followed the libretto. Lots of things make no sense, such as when Rigoletto rails against the complicit courtiers, singing, “Why aren’t you laughing now?” when they’re all clearly chuckling. A bit of lighting in Duane Schuler’s design flashes long before we’re told there’s a storm. And I have no idea what Alden’s doing with the character of Gilda’s nurse, Giovanna (Megan Latham), whose attraction to the Duke makes her into some sort of crazed sexual abuse enabler.

Worst of all, Alden has an annoying habit of giving characters distracting stage business while other singers are belting out their notes.

Which is a shame, because under the firm, urgent baton of conductor Stephen Lord, the performers are mostly fine, from Janelidze’s powerful assassin-with-a-conscience (talk about stage presence!) to Costello’s firm, steady tenor.

Wood’s title character has a big, booming baritone and the kind of juicy diction that makes you understand the words even without the English surtitles.

It’s a pity he couldn’t share some of that clarity with Alden to help create a production that enhances rather than detracts from this opera.

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