Rigoletto at the Vancouver Opera celebrated last Saturday the premiere of its 2015-16 season, the last one as a traditional season before its new period as a festival. VO presented for the occasion Giuseppe Verdi´s well-known opera Rigoletto, first one in his named Popular Trilogy, and based on Victor Hugo´s Le Roi s´amuse.
The rendition proposed by conductor Jonathan Darlington leading the Vancouver Opera orchestra and chorus was musically powerful and technically attentive. Mr. Darlington´s support for the singers was a key factor in the final result, delivering a fine version in spite of the nerves of the premiere.
The Canadian Opera Director Nancy Hermiston sets the opera in a traditional castle created by Utah Opera somewhere between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The first act, in which the composer´s aim was to portray a close view to the psychology of the characters, was irregular and not very innovative. For instance, the first scene of the party at the duke´s palace is in Hermiston´s version a static event without dynamism between the actors. Nevertheless, some scenes were fairly effective, such as the Ducca-Gilda duet and the quartet at the third act. Lighting designed by John Webber was also schematic and predictable, failing to underline the secondary ideas behind the drama. The costumes from Malabar looked appealing and colorful, in contrast with a dull environment. The overall setting of the Vancouver Opera, too simple and conservative, doesn’t contribute much to the success of the opera.
The evening´s most interesting feature was, by far, the quality of the voices of the three main roles. Duke of Mantua, the noble womanizer interpreted by tenor Bruce Sledge was well received for his vocal quality and theatrical intelligence. Mr. Sledge showed an impressive control and technique in Parmi veder le lagrime, at the beginning of the second act. The Canadian soprano Simone Osborne was Gilda, Rigoletto´s daughter. Despite a small voice, still in development, she surprised with an outstanding cadenza at the end of Caro Nome. Her role was credible and touching, supported by Mr. Darlington, who restrained the orchestral sound. Undeniably, Mrs. Osborne is one of the best sopranos of her generation. Finally, baritone Gordon Hawkins was Rigoletto. The breadth of his voice, with deep and resounding low notes, was noticed at once. Still Mr. Hawkins style was somehow irregular, combining delicate phrases with open and some careless sounds. It´s a great voice, indeed, yet it would improve if he managed to control his vocal strength, putting all that intensity towards a more defined dramatic idea.
We have to highlight the work of the bass Matthew Treviño as the assassin Sparafucille, seconded in the same register by Cameron McPhail (Monterone). Francesca Corrado (Giovanna) and Canadian mezzo Carolyn Sproule (Maddalena) succeeded in finely balancing the darkness of the male characters. In general, despite the youth of the artists, the VO vocal casting achieved a considerably high level.
It is clear that the quality of the three main artists, in addition to the enthusiasm of a great group of young singers led by the experienced baton of Mr. Darlington, overcame a visually boring performance.