Newsflash! In dramatic fashion, the Russian soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova became a bargaining chip in a struggle between an overly protective father and a licentious nobleman. The events unfurled in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in a production of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto, which will be presented this week on CBC Radio 2's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
The Canadian Opera Company production contrasts the privileges enjoyed by the nobleman with the venomous feelings spit out by a sharp-tongued underling. As the COC reports, "The Duke of Mantua lives a dissolute existence, caring little for the lives he destroys in the process. His jester, Rigoletto, knows his employer's proclivities all too well and obsessively guards his daughter from the Duke. When she is cruelly seduced and deceived, Rigoletto vows to avenge her, with devastating consequences."
The role of the Duke is sung by tenor Dmitri Pittas; the Hawaiian bass-baritone Quinn Kelsey portrays the hunchbacked jester, Rigoletto, and his precious daughter Gilda is sung by Ekaterina Sadovnikova. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Chorus and Orchestra.
Cast and Characters (in order of vocal appearance)
The Duke of Mantua: Dmitri Pittas, tenor
Borsa: John Kriter, tenor
Countess Ceprano: Mireille Asselin, soprano
Rigoletto: Quinn Kelsey, baritone
Marullo: Adrian Kramer, baritone
Count Ceprano: Alain Coulombe, bass
Count Monterone: Robert Pomakov, bass
Sparafucile: Phillip Ens, bass
Gilda: Ekaterina Sadovnikova, soprano
Giovanna: Megan Latham, mezzo-soprano
A page: Jacqueline Woodley, soprano
An usher: Neil Craighead, bass-baritone
Maddalena: Kendall Gladen, mezzo soprano
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus
Conductor: Johannes Debus
Synopsis, courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company
In his palace, the Duke of Mantua tells a courtier, Borsa, about his newest love. The girl has enchanted the Duke, but it makes no difference whether he pursues one woman or the other - they're all the same to him. The Duke flirts with Countess Ceprano, as Rigoletto cruelly mocks her husband. Another courtier, Marullo, tells his friends of his surprising discovery: Rigoletto has a mistress.
Rigoletto suggests several methods of disposing of superfluous husbands. Realizing that he is the object of Rigoletto's sarcasm, Count Ceprano arranges for a midnight meeting with some of the courtiers to obtain vengeance.
An elderly nobleman, Count Monterone, denounces the Duke for dishonouring his daughter. He curses the Duke, and when mocked by Rigoletto, Monterone turns on him and curses him as well.
Brooding over Monterone's curse, Rigoletto returns to the secluded house where he shields his daughter, Gilda, from the licentiousness of the Duke's court. He is confronted by Sparafucile, a professional assassin, who offers him his services. After Rigoletto sends him away, he muses on the similarity of their professions.
Gilda greets her father. She asks him about her mother, but he replies only that his wife was an angel who loved him. He refuses to divulge his real name and repeats his command that Gilda not leave their home, except to attend church. While Rigoletto is warning Giovanna (Gilda's companion) to admit no one, the Duke steals in and hides. He is astonished to hear Rigoletto call Gilda his daughter. Father and daughter bid each other farewell, and Rigoletto departs.
Gilda confesses to Giovanna that she is in love with a young man who has been following her home every day after church. The Duke now appears and declares his love for Gilda. He identifies himself as Gualtier Maldè, a penniless student. Hearing footsteps, he rushes off, leaving Gilda thinking lovingly of his name.
The courtiers appear, masked and ready to abduct Rigoletto's supposed mistress. He surprises them by returning, but Marullo convinces him that they are planning to abduct the wife of Count Ceprano, who lives nearby. Rigoletto falls into their trap, permitting himself to be blindfolded and masked. Unknowingly, he assists the conspirators. Gilda cries out to her father as she is carried off. Becoming suspicious, Rigoletto tears off the blindfold, realizes Gilda is gone, and cries, "Ah, the curse!"
The Duke laments the loss of Gilda. After the courtiers tell him of the abduction, he rejoices that the girl is now in the palace.
When Rigoletto appears, he feigns nonchalance. Once it becomes clear to him that Gilda must be with the Duke, he tries to reach her, but the courtiers hold him back. His denunciation of their treachery dissolves into a bereft father's pleading.
Left alone with Rigoletto, Gilda confesses that she is in love with the Duke and begs her father to forgive him. As Monterone is led to his execution, Rigoletto swears that they both will be avenged.
Rigoletto has brought Gilda to Sparafucile's inn to prove her lover's faithlessness. As they lurk in the darkness, the Duke enters. After proclaiming the fickleness of women, he showers attentions on Maddalena, the assassin's sister, as Rigoletto tries to comfort his despairing daughter. He orders her to disguise herself as a boy and meet him in Verona. After striking a bargain with Sparafucile for the Duke's murder, Rigoletto departs.
Gilda returns in male attire in time to overhear Maddalena begging her brother to spare the handsome stranger's life. Sparafucile agrees to deceive Rigoletto by substituting the corpse of the next person who appears at the inn. Having returned to the inn determined to sacrifice herself so the Duke may live, Gilda becomes Sparafucile's next victim.
At the stroke of midnight, Rigoletto pays the assassin and reserves for himself the satisfaction of throwing the sack containing his enemy's corpse into the river. When he hears the Duke's voice in the distance, he opens the sack and finds his daughter instead of the Duke. Begging her father's forgiveness, she dies. The despairing Rigoletto cries out once more, "Ah, the curse!"
Rigoletto is an incendiary work. Its dramatic source, Victor Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse, was banned after its first performance at the Comédie Française and not performed again for half a century. Although set in the Renaissance, it deals with the inequalities of the social structure in Hugo's and Verdi's own time. Written in a heightened melodramatic mode, it is pointedly accusatory regarding the abuses of monarchy. It is a nightmare about an all-powerful and irresponsible ruler.
The title role of Rigoletto retains much of the bile and acid humour of the jester in Hugo's play, somewhat humanized by Verdi. The anti-hero is dark and brooding, locked into his own obsessions and repressed fantasies. In public life, as part of the nasty and competitive little world of the Duke's court, he has climbed to the top of the ladder of power by dint of his malicious wit. Mocked by others because of his physical deformity, he has achieved success as a brilliant mocker. In his private life, Rigoletto reveals a positively schizophrenic new personality, sweetly sentimental in his desire to keep his daughter pure and uncorrupted by the outside world.
Rigoletto is a genius of denial. His obsession with Monterone's curse at the source of his misfortune is an easy way out of facing up to his own responsibility as the master of his fate. He is a paradigm of the patriarchal 19th-century male whose power is built on the subjugation of women, disenfranchised and locked safely away at home, while he goes to work in the newly industrialized, dog-eat-dog Darwinian jungle. Gilda is an image of Rigoletto's soul, kept pure and uncorrupted, far from the soulless marketplace. Rigoletto's mistake is in thinking he can neatly divide himself into these two separate compartments. When the barriers between them come crashing down, Rigoletto unwittingly kills the thing he loves.
In this production, instead of moving from one naturalistic locale to the next, Michael Levine and I are placing all the events of Rigoletto in what we call "the gaming room," where the men retire after dinner to smoke and drink, read their papers, and play games of power, control, and domination. The room represents both sides of Rigoletto's life, the workplace and the home. The Duke, a personification of unbounded libido, rules there. The trump card he holds over the men of his court is that at any moment, in full view and fully within his feudal rights, he could seduce their women and humiliate them in the process.
Hugo's play offered Verdi the golden opportunity to move beyond the conventional tenor/soprano/baritone clichés of the era. He insisted on writing Rigoletto, despite warnings from all quarters that the censors would never let it pass. The result is an opera which raises the Donizettian/Bellinian/Rossinian modes to new expressive heights.
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