BWW Review: Austin Opera Dazzles With RIGOLETTO
Austin Opera's latest effort, Verdi's, RIGOLETTO dazzles in every way. They absolutely outdid themselves this time.
Arguably Verdi's most beloved opera, RIGOLETTO made its premiere in Venice in 1851. Based on a play, Le roi s'amuse by Victor Hugo, the story begins at the court of the Count of Mantua (Kang Wang). The Count is a master of seduction, using and discarding women at every turn. His court, including his faithful Jester, Rigoletto (Michael Chioldi) find his antics highly amusing, egging him on and throwing women in his path. It's after the playboy Count seduces the daughter of Count Monterone that the tone changes from playful to sinister, quickly. The old Count places a curse on the court as he is dragged away by palace guards. The only one who heeds the dire malediction is the jester, he fears that evil will shadow his life and he's not wrong. The courtiers, who have all been the butt of Rigoletto's jokes, learn that the old man has a mistress and plan to kidnap her and deliver her to their lusty monarch.
Meanwhile the clown makes his way home where his daughter Gilda (Madison Leonard), not his mistress, awaits him. He has kept her hidden in order to shield her from the court and only allows her to leave her walled villa to attend church. But unknown to Rigoletto, Gilda and the Duke have been making eyes at each other at mass. When the old man readies to leave, the Duke sneaks in to meet Gilda face to face. When they meet they fall in love instantly, as often happens on opera. He also lies to the young woman, telling her he is merely a student who is penniless. When the Duke makes his exit, his courtiers show up and trick Rigoletto into helping with his own child's abduction by blindfolding the old man. Back at the palace the cruel mob of noblemen have left Gilda in their leader's bed and the Duke takes full advantage of the situation. The jester knows exactly who took his daughter and why, he rushes to court to save what is left of her reputation, but Gilda is having none of it, she's in love and that's it. At this point the plot turns toward its darkest themes of vengeance, murder and death. There are few happy endings in opera and RIGOLETTO is one of the most heartbreakingly tragic of all. But what a brilliantly told story Austin Opera gives us!
I'm a relatively new opera fan. RIGOLETTO is my fifth opera to see in live performance and I just can't get over the beauty and power of the entire experience. From the moment the curtain rose I was fully entranced by every aspect of the production. Stage Director Tara Faircloth presents an extravagant work of art in every aspect, her playfulness shows in small moments that bring chuckles from the audience. Conductor Robert Wood guides Verdi's iconic music and leaves our hearts humming. The beauty of the set is simply breathtaking, it's enormous Romanesque arches dominate the stage in two levels and give both interior and exterior scenes a gravitas and add depth to the scenes.
Scenic Designer Lawrence Shafer's use of rich deep tones lend wealth and power to the underpinnings Mantua itself. The lighting design is quite simply masterful, designed by Chad R. Jung, it makes shadows seem bright, yet ominous. He gives us texture in a luminous form. Susan Memmott Allred's costume design is lush and striking. But it's so much more than beautiful Renaissance clothing, her unmatched eye for color plays a huge role in making the courtiers blend into a vengeful mob and in pulling our eyes to the center of the action. Her skills are not only subtle, it's clearly a master class in the use of multiple tone and detail on stage. The entire cast is worthy of kudos, but the leading roles are played by the best in opera today. Kang Wang who dazzled Austin audiences in LA BOHEMÈ last season returns to play the playboy Duke with his gorgeous tenor and depth of character. He takes the iconic "La donna è mobile" from frivolous to haunting in the final act.
As the ingenue Gilda, Madison Leonard wins our hearts with her outstanding vocal gymnastics, along with her heartfelt love for her father and her lover. Perhaps my personal favorite is Peter Volpe as the hitman Sparafucile. His obvious relish in the evil role is evident and his wry sense of humor in the role is infectious. As the title character Michael Chioldi is quite simply perfect. Not only does he give us every note in his beautiful baritone, he makes us feel his love, anger, pain and grief at every moment.
The entire production is stellar and not to be missed for fans of opera or those who have never attended an opera before. I very much enjoyed my seat in the mezzanine as it gave me the full spectacle in all its glorious beauty and it was a true treat to be able to see the orchestra work. My advice is to get tickets now and support Austin Opera and their ability to bring world class entertainment to Austin!
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Austin Opera at The Long Center
November 9, 14, 17 at 7:30pm
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with two 20 minute intermissions
Tickets: $185 - $39.00 ($15.00 student)