RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by Christopher Alden, conducted by Johannes Debus/Derek Bate (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To October 22 with alternating casts. $12-$318. 416-363-8231. See listing. Rating: NNN
One of Verdi's best-known works, Rigoletto gets an unusual staging by director Christopher Alden, who envisions the opera's action as a kind of dream or inescapable memory for the central figure, jester at the Duke of Mantua's court.
Taunting a nobleman whose daughter has been raped by the Duke, Rigoletto is cursed; the jester can never forget that curse, which turns his dream into a nightmare.
The action is set entirely in a 19th-century men's club, splendidly designed in forced perspective by Michael Levine. Men run this world, with the Duke at the apex of the power structure; no one dares contradict him. The driving forces here are violence and libido, both of which the Duke personifies.
Glenn Sumi has already reviewed the production with one cast; here's a look at the alternate cast, which features Lester Lynch as Rigoletto, Simone Osborne as his daughter Gilda and David Lomelí as the Duke. They perform October 13, 17 and 20.
At opening performance, Lomelí didn't show his big voice to advantage until the second half. He's a cunning character, this Duke, seducing just about every woman in sight, including Gilda's lecherous maid, jealous of her young mistress. He also likes to show off to his adoring court; they better be adoring, clearly, or it's off with their heads. At the start of the final act, the tyrant puts on a performance for them; brass lamps circle his little acting world.
Lynch's anguished Rigoletto anchors the production with a strong presence and a ringing voice; he's especially moving in his third act aria, Cortigiani, vil razza dannata, in which he condemns the jeering court. His concern for Gilda clear in all he does, but there's also a touch of the overbearing patriarch in his relationship with her, so that Gilda understandably fears him as much as she loves him.
The tension between the two characters should underlie any production of Rigoletto; Lynch and Osborne make sure it works here.
The soprano creates a sympathetic Gilda, especially in her sensitively sung aria Caro nome, but her voice is sometimes lost when she turns away from the audience. Still, it's great to see this Ensemble Studio member get a series of mainstage performances; she grows with every production.
Alden's directorial choices don't always work - scene changes can be awkward, we're sometimes kept emotionally at bay and the dream metaphor isn't always effective - but his decision to make the assassin Sparafucile (rich-voiced Phillip Ens) a kind of elder statesman who has an incestuous thing for his sister Maddalena (the sensual Kendall Gladen) is a little gem of staging.
Alden and Levine's club setting works best in the second half, which reveals all the men as voyeurs in a rape scene they help mask. The final moments of the tragedy are poignant, suitably bare and powerful for that simplicity.