The Portland Opera hosted the opening night of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 opera Rigoletto at Keller Auditorium on Friday, May 4, which brought the house to its feet and left the audience wanting more.
The plot of Rigoletto revolves around the womanizing Duke of Mantua and his court jester Rigoletto who cruelly mocks the victims of the Duke’s escapades while privately despising his own buffoonery. “Assassins wound with weapons; I wound with words,” Rigoletto laments. While the Duke is an abhorred villain, Rigoletto is the unfortunate sidekick forced to play along. Tangled up with the drama is Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. A Rapunzel-like character, Gilda is locked away in a tower by her overprotective father, combing her flaxen locks while longing for a lover.
The Portland Opera Orchestra and Chorus was masterfully led by George Manahan and joined by guest and resident artists. Stephen Powell evoked Rigoletto’s character, adapting from the jester’s bumbling antics to a more plaintive, paternal tone as the story progressed. Katrina Galka played a beguiling and endearing Gilda. Her high notes were perfectly sparkly and clear. The father-daughter moments between the two were evocative and tender. Though Monterone appears only briefly on stage, Reginald Smith, Jr. gave an unforgettably thunderous performance of the count.
Rigoletto features some of opera’s most iconic moments such as the third act quartet, when Verdi expertly wove two separate conversations into one heart-rending song. One of the most catchy tunes in all of opera is “La Donna e Mobile,” translated as “Woman Are Fickle,” sung ironically by the philandering Duke himself. “La Donna” made its way into modern pop culture through cinema and even football stadium events. So catchy is this tune, Verdi urged the tenor at the premiere to avoid even whistling the melody outside rehearsals. It’s impossible to leave a Rigoletto production without humming it!
In addition to demonstrating his genius as a composer, Rigoletto shows Verdi’s penchant for activism. Verdi was an ardent supporter of the Italian unification movement, a process spanning most of his life. Interestingly, Verdi’s name became an acronym in support of the movement and it’s leader, Vittorio Emanuele. Writing Rigoletto was a risky move on Verdi’s part because the opera is based on a banned Victor Hugo play that criticized the monarchy. Verdi thinly disguised it by changing the French names to Italian ones and calling the ruler a Duke rather than a king.
The only complaint from the evening involved a lengthy and somewhat noisy stage reset between scenes in Act I. I overheard a few opera fans conjecturing whether a more functional set design could have solved the problem. Even so, the less than stellar transition was a small price to pay for a beautiful set and impressive production.
Students can enjoy Portland Opera’s stellar productions at a discounted price. Upcoming productions include Gounod’s Faust in June and Rossini’s La Cenerentola in July. Purchase student tickets online or in person.
For details, visit portlandopera.org/ticket-information.