Only two performances of Boston Lyric Opera’s stunning RIGOLETTO remain. If you haven’t attended in a while, now is the time to revisit this solid company of young (but fully experienced) singers. The BLO can match any of the top companies with their musicianship and their exceptional acting and well as singing performances. With RIGOLETTO you’ll witness BLO’s taste in directors, as well, and Tomer Zvulun is top of his game, with a brilliant interpretation which doesn’t change the opera one whit (Traditionalists have nothing to fear.) but lifts it to new heights.
If you are going, don’t read on because you will be transported, thrilled and moved like no other production you’ve seen. We were stunned by the sublime ending. Knowing ahead of time how Zvulun does it will spoil the surprise.
Here’s how Zvulun enhances the story with just a few tweaks in the staging: Most productions do not show the personification of Monterone’s rage. He simply arrives, tells his story and curses everyone. Zvulun puts Monterone’s raped, ruined daughter on stage in the very first scene where she’s manhandled, maybe even drugged, poor thing. She can barely walk. And yes, she runs into Papa’s arms just like Gilda will run to Rigoletto in Act II. An eye for an eye. A daughter for a daughter.
The inspired ending has Rigoletto receive the body bag from the assassin, Sparafucile, with the daed Duke, he thinks, inside, when he hears the Duke’s “La donna è mobile.” He’s horrified, disoriented. He thinks the singing is coming from the sack so he stabs at it trying to finish him off. His metaphor about killing his daughter by “his own hand” is now literal.
He opens the bag, finds her lifeless body and we’re on the edge of our seats, wondering how she can possibly be alive long enough to sing her goodbye. She isn’t but her transcendent spirit is. (The nifty body double switch is accomplished during the thunder and lightening strikes.)
Gilda is now free to sing the exquisite “V'ho ingannato” without diminishing her voice to simulate loss of breath. As the spirit passes behind Rigoletto, he is still begging the lifeless corpse not to die. Just as she’s exiting, though, he senses a presence and turns his head in her direction, as if he feels her spirit leaving. It took our breath away!
Christopher Franklin’s orchestra had passion and strength. Bruce Sledge as the Duke sang beautifully, with clarity, despite a head cold. Michael Mayes acted and sang his way onto my list of favorite Rigolettos, including Richard Fredericks, Cornell MacNeil and Sherrill Milnes. Nadine Sierra gave an ethereal, gossamer performance as Gilda, Morris Robinson took over the stage as the evil assassin, Sparafucile and David Cushing as Monterone was a righteously frightening presence. Every member of the cast added immeasurably to the whole. This is one RIGOLETTO I can’t stop talking about.