Last night was the second performance of the COC’s new Rigoletto and the first featuring the alternate leading role trio of Lester Lynch (Rigoletto), David Lomeli (Duke of Mantua) and Simone Osborne (Gilda). The rest of the cast was as on opening night.
Musically this was a really splendid evening. Everybody sang really well. I like Lester Lynch’s idiomatic playing of the title role and he managed to combine a not inappropriate amount of scenery chewing with being thoroughly musical. Lomeli lived up to the “dragged from obscurity by Placido Domingo” hype. I think there is a true Italian tenor emerging here. He nailed his arias with lovely ringing high notes and plenty of swagger. Osborne, on role debut, was lovely. Caro nome was one of the highlights of the evening and ,in general, she sounded very secure across some pretty tough music. The chemistry between the three was pretty good although the production maybe put more emotional distance between Gilda and Rigoletto than is sometimes the case. In any event the voices blended well and seemed well balanced. Among the other roles I was particularly impressed by Kendall Gladden’s Maddalena. She has a really smoky mezzo that created a pleasing contrast with the brighter voices. She’s a pretty fine actor too so it’s easy to see why she gets cast as Carmen! I also liked Philip Ens’ Sparafucile. He was a sinister presence and a genuine bass with a thoroughly solid lower register. All in all, the casting managed to combine very good individual singers into an ensemble that had a really good balance of tone/timbre. The orchestra and chorus were at their usual high standard and Johannes Debus kept things together very nicely and didn’t distract from the singing and I do think this is very much a singers opera.
The production and design (Christopher Alden and Michael Levine) was very decorative. All the action plays out in a lavishly panelled and furnished “gaming room” looking something like the smoking room at one of the better London clubs in the mid/late 19th century. It does duty for the duke’s court, Rigoletto’s home and Sparafucile’s inn. In a sense this creates a kind of unity; all of these spaces are misogynistic theatres of corrupt power and delusion. On the other hand it requires the audience to suspend disbelief more often and more willingly than usual. It’s an odd kind of secret that can be sung mezzoforte in front of the people it’s supposed to be secret from! The male dominated Victorian aesthetic seems to produce a kind of emotional coolness too. We never quite get enough emotional charge in the Gilda/Rigoletto dynamic to fully feel his loss (i.e. I didn’t cry at the end). The final scene though is splendidly and very effectively done.(*)
So summing up, I enjoyed the show. Musically it is first rate. The production was interesting but I don’t think the concept was quite able to carry the piece emotionally. It’s not a disaster and there’s nothing to shock the traditionalist. Maybe if I had seen Rigoletto a million times before I’d be more positive. Go see the show and judge for yourself!
The production runs until October 22nd and there is a choice of the cast we saw or Quinn Kelsey, Dmitri Pittas and Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Rigoletto, the duke and Gilda.
(*)Spoiler follows…The stage is completely clear. The walls and ceiling of the “gaming room” are still there but that’s it except for a large white sheet at centre stage. Here Rigoletto finds that the murder victim is Gilda, covered in rose petals. She sings her final lines and then walks slowly back lit upstage to the door as the jester once more remembers “the curse”.