Rigoletto by Verdi is a staple of my opera experience. As a kid we would visit grandma on Sunday for a dinner of supreme luxury: a roast chicken stuffed with sausage. In those far off days, chicken was expensive, what we would today call free-range–a rare treat. At home all we ate was mutton because it was cheap. Things have changed.
After this grand Sunday feast, the adults would linger around the table, and I was banished to the living room where I was allowed to play the gramophone–an indulgence to get me out of their hair. The only records my grandmother owned were three long-playing records of Rigoletto. I still have the set and it is besides me as I type. The cast includes Ferruccio Tagliavini, Lina Pagliughi, and Giuseppe Taddei. The cover proudly proclaims that it was recorded in Italy and manufactured in South Africa.
I would play the records through each Sunday and try to follow the words, sung in Italian, in the booklet that included an English translation. This was my first introduction to a romance language. I was already learning Afrikaans and was aware of the concept of different languages.
Thus Saturday’s performance of Rigoletto was something of a trip down memory lane. I have over the years listened to other recordings of Rigoletto and watched many a DVD performance. Right now in Vancouver I have waiting for me the most recent DVD of Rigoletto with Juan Diego Florez as the Duke. Still to watch that one.
Last night’s LA Opera performance was pure pleasure. Some critics have slated the scenery. I loved the clean look, the bright colors, the absence of fuss, and the vast spacial effects. But most I enjoyed the singing. George Gagnidze as Rigoletto was spine-chilling in his portrayal of the hunckback cursed by Monterone. He is acknowledged as a fine performer of the role, so let me say no more, other than it is a portrayal worth going to see.
For me the highlight of the evening was Gianluca Terranova as the Duke. Not the hero or even the lead in the opera, this tenor role nevertheless demands a presence to keep the story moving. Gianluca is Italian enough to convince me that he is a libertine duke and a ladies’ man of few scruples who “suffers” a real, but fleeting passion for Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. His singing was in my ears electrifying. He kind of makes the inner ear vibrate with sound as he belts out the famous and so well-known arias. His sound fills the theater with utter confidence and presence. I hope to see and hear more of him.
Sarah Coburn as Gilda is pretty, naive, and lovely to hear. I have never taken to this silly girl, having dealt myself with daughters. How can one enjoy watching a kid so protected do such a silly thing? Thus I pass in prejudice from Gilda and leave her to her vain sacrifice.
The audience for Rigoletto differed substantially from last week’s Lohengrin. Last night it seemed as though most around us had never before seen an opera. It is good that new opera goers are tempted into the theater by “pop” opera. But do they really need to bring their bottles of water to swig through the performance. This is taking the drinking from a plastic bottle all day long practice to new heights of madness. Still they were at the opera. At the end of the performance, they still could not understand why Gilda was killed. They have a ways to go.
For the rest though, let me encourage you to take time out and go see this opera, and take a young kid along too. I was but ten or so when I first experience this opera and it started me on a journey of pleasure that has brought me to this blog posting. Last week there were three ten-year olds in the audience with their parents. That is a hard opera to first expose kids to, but at least they were exposed. I saw no youngsters at the opera last night. More’s the pity as I am sure they would have enjoyed it as much as I did nearly fifty years ago and as I did one night ago.