Chicago Opera Review: RIGOLETTO (Lyric Opera)

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by Barnaby Hughes on October 8, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


After the novelty of Lyric’s season-opening production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, this more traditional production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is welcome indeed. In Rigoletto, Verdi’s score is as delightful and charming as ever, with such memorable songs as “La donna è mobile” and “Caro nome.” Moreover, it is perfectly balanced between large ensemble scenes and more intimate duets. Rigoletto doesn’t drag either, nor is it overly long, but lasts a reasonably full two and a half hours, including one intermission.

One of the things that makes this production so easy to warm to—besides its well-known music—is audience familiarity with lead performers Quinn Kelsey and Matthew Polenzani, who are both Ryan Opera Center alumni. Each has returned to Chicago frequently and recently. Kelsey’s performance in the titular role might be his best yet at Lyric, using his brassy, barrel-chested baritone to maximum effect. At turns jocular and brooding, bellicose and tender, he masterfully imbues his character with all of the shifting moods and emotional complexity that the role requires. Similarly stunning is Polenzani’s performance as the profligate duke, whose ravishing tenor lilts and soars.

Based on Victor Hugo’s 1832 play Le roi s’amuse, Rigoletto is a tragedy in three acts set in 16th-century Mantua featuring a cast of finely-drawn, multi-layered characters. It is also about the power of words to curse, to wound, and to woo. At the center is the eponymous protagonist, who is overly protective of his daughter Gilda, poignantly portrayed by newcomer Rosa Feola. Rigoletto refuses to let her out of the house or to be drawn out on the subject of her mother/his deceased wife. As the court jester, he has created many enemies with his sharp-tongued and insulting jokes masquerading as wit and whimsy. Mistaking his daughter for his mistress, Rigoletto’s antagonists abduct her. She then falls into the hands of the eminently amorous duke, who seduces every lovely lady he meets, including Gilda. Rigoletto vows revenge against the duke, hiring the assassin Sparafucile, sinisterly played by Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk. Even after Rigoletto reveals to Gilda the duke’s perfidy, she sacrifices herself in place of her beloved.

Director E. Loren Meeker brings these interesting characters vividly to life by artfully arranging their movements, such as in the opening tableau and in the way certain individuals are tossed about by the crowds. Michael Yeargan’s angular set designs simply and elegantly evoke the opera’s Renaissance settings. Chris Maravich’s lighting designs are as brilliant as ever, contributing to the mood almost as much as does the music. While Constance Hoffman’s costumes are not the most historically-informed or -fashionable creations, their bold hues and textures effulgently enliven the production’s aesthetic.

Rigoletto is classic Italian opera; and classic Verdi. Even if you’ve seen Rigoletto before, this magnificent, new-to-Chicago production shouldn’t be missed!

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on November 3, 2017
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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