Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

LA Opera chose to end its mainstage 2017- 2018 Season with a revival of Rigoletto, Giuseppe Verdi’s cynical vision of moral corruption. The production hails from the San Francisco Opera and was last seen in Los Angeles in 2010. As I was unable to attend the opening, I caught the opera late in its run with three new principals.

I don’t typically attend the pre-performance lectures, but my companion for the evening was new to opera, and I thought she’d appreciate the background. The lecturer was Conductor Matthew Aucoin, and he spoke with such insight and enthusiasm that he not only prepared my friend but captured my complete attention throughout.

The production is conventional, meaning that it is placed in the vaguely Renaissance period Verdi envisioned. But it looks a little worn. Michael Yeargan’s unit set features a mammoth gallery of archways. But the only thing that differentiates the design from a tour of Kiss Me Kate is Robert Wierzel’s lurid lighting.

Last time around, Mark Lamos’ direction had some punch, but, now, much of the physical action is filled with posturing rather than passion. Though to be fair, Lamos may not have been around to work with the second cast, and they may have had little to feel comfortable with the staging.

Musically, the drama is on a surer footing. Ambrogio Maestri’s Rigoletto is a jester who spends more time stirring up trouble in the court than getting laughs. But he shows a loving side in the scenes with his daughter Gilda. Maestri’s powerful voice finds colors enough to differentiate the desperate fury in “Cortigiani” from the horror of the final scene.

Adela Zaharia makes a stunning Gilda. She is able to balance the innocent girl with the woman who will sacrifice herself to save the man she loves. Zaharia’s singing is elegant but forceful. She has more vocal heft than the typical coloratura, but it doesn’t hamper her agility. At first glance, Michael Fabiano’s Duke is merely callow, but as the action unfolds, one senses that his drive for pleasure may mask other a complicated inner life. After a little uncertainty at the top of the opera, Fabiano delivers a well-sung and carefully crafted vocal portrayal.

Aucoin’s tempos are fast and urgent. The choice tends to downplay the more melodramatic moments by not lingering on them. The speed also brings a welcome jolt of energy to the familiar score.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion    May 12 – June 3, 2018    laopera.org