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L.A. Opera's 'Rigoletto'

By Donna Perlmutter
Published: Monday, November 29, 2010, at 04:46PM
L.A. Opera's 'Rigoletto' Robert Millard

George Gagnidze as Rigoletto

Try to imagine a 19th-century ducal court, an elegantly stylized affair that oozes chic debauchery, and chances are, you won’t be surprised when the curtain rises on Los Angeles Opera’s production of “Rigoletto,” now onstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

In fact, everything about the opening scene and Verdi’s famously urgent music has a rip-snorting feel to it. The courtiers sport masks with long nasty noses, their feminine counterparts bare nipple pasties pushed up above tight corsets, and all prance around in clever, characterful choreography that underlines a lascivious atmosphere tinged with cynicism.

It’s an uproarious show, and one in keeping with the politically-craven society portrayed. It even washes away images of Bruce Beresford’s ridiculous 2000 mounting for the company.

Verdi’s little pot-boiler, based on Victor Hugo’s play “Le roi s’amuse,” is stage-worthy to the rafters, of course. What with a deformed pimp of a court jester as the title character, his lovely virginal daughter Gilda whom he keeps hidden and unknown until disaster strikes, and a womanizing duke as his abusive master, ironic tragedy is inevitable.

And if we’re lucky, genuine pathos might also surface – melting away the heartless, heedless indulgences and hypocrisies that make up the human condition.

Not so much of that pathos here, it turns out. George Gagnidze played a physically robust, middle-ground Rigoletto – he was neither the most vile or contemptuous of hunchbacks, nor the most fearful or heartsick over his daughter’s looming vulnerability. The baritone really sang the role, though, with ample range, power and beauty of tone. But he somehow didn’t show us his horror at her abduction or make us weep as he lost the only thing he loved in life.

And then there was Gianluca Terranova as the Mantuan Duke, forthright rather than swaggering, with a bright, somewhat metallic tenor that he produced purposefully. For his one big chance to reveal tenderness, the aria “Parmi veder,” he simply bellowed. No caressing of the line or of words, no trace of subtlety. Yet this was the moment he felt cherished, and thus yielding – because Gilda did not know his identity; she thought he was a poor student and was able to disarm him with her genuine love.

But never mind, he carried off the hit tunes “Questa o quella“ and “La donna è mobile” with testosteronic vigor and high spirits.

So did Sarah Coburn (yes, she’s the daughter of Republican Sen. Tom Coburn) sing Gilda with coloratura refinement, but, happily, minus the chirpy canary effects. Her soprano blooms and gains dimension on command. What’s more, she’s lovely to look at and that always does wonders for a heroine who’s supposed to be a romantic magnet.

The two partners in crime, Sparafucile and Maddalena, were left in the able hands of Andrea Silvestrelli and Kendall Gladen respectively. He, with a skulking presence and black basso, and she, with a come-hither casualness and sultry mezzo, made a convincing assassins duo.

Pulling it all together was James Conlon, who mined dark energy and crisp drama from the score, exhorting the orchestra to play with palpable fervor. And was he also an influence on those exercises in crescendo-decrescendo we heard from the singers? Then kudos to him. Ditto to the director/designer team of Mark Lamos-Michael Yeargan-Constance Hoffman, whose enormously effective staging – archways of clean, chiaroscuro perspectives on a unit set -- had its 1997 premiere in San Francisco.

"Rigoletto" / Dorothy Chandler Pavilion / 135 N. Grand / 7:30pm performances on December 2, 8, 11 and 15; 2pm performances on December 5 and 18

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