Vengence. Revenge. Don’t get mad, get even. The desire to exact retribution is so universal that Scripture is on record warning us against it.
Lyric’s regular season concludes with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” playing at the Civic Opera House. It is a tale of revenge and its bitter consequences.
Rigoletto is a widowed jester in the court of the young Duke of Mantua, a narcissistic libertine. The opera begins with an orgy in the aristocrat’s bedchamber. A nobleman enters with his waif of a daughter, charging the Duke has violated her and demanding retribution. Rigoletto leads the courtiers in derisive laughter. The nobleman curses Rigoletto.
Rigoletto himself has a 16-year-old daughter, Gilda. He keeps her locked up, lest she be kidnapped and debauched in the Duke’s court. Without a discourse on the plot, that is exactly what happens. Rigoletto, vowing revenge, hires a professional assassin to take out the Duke, but in the end, the curse falls on Rigoletto.
A glorious star graces the role of Gilda, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, in her Lyric Opera debut. She has captivated audiences from Moscow to Houston, San Francisco to Salzburg, and her clear agile coloratura initially captures Gilda first taste of young love. But as the drama progresses, her character matures, and Shagimuratova’s full-lyric soprano voice lights up the stage. Of particular note is her ability to sustain a filament of sound with tenderness and passion.
Polish baritone Andrezej Dobber makes his Lyric debut in the title role. He has sung the role multiple times, but on opening night he seemed stiff physically and vocally. He did, however, acquit himself admirably as the drama progressed.
The Duke, as sung by Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, is a bad boy you should hate. Filianoti, however, emphasizes the playboy’s youth, and as he woos Gilda disguised as a penniless student, his song is full of charm.
Verdi called “Rigoletto” an opera of duets, and ensemble singing packs this popular work. The duets between Gilda and Rigoletto are particularly touching—a father and daughter both doomed to broken hearts.
The score tells you everything about the sex and violence that pervade the drama, and the Lyric Orchestra, under the baton of Evan Rogister, presents it to perfection. This is the American conductor’s Lyric debut and he deftly articulates the musical messages Verdi has put in this lean but powerful music.
Lyric’s choristers can do anything. In “Rigoletto” male singers command a pivotal role in the action and their precision and ensemble are remarkable.
This is a durable and superior opera, with a sensational soprano, sterling chorus and superb orchestra. The sets are not particularly exciting, but that’s a quibble. See it if you can, and forget completely about getting even!
An excellent pre-concert lecture with recorded excerpts is given by Wynne Delacoma, former music critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, one hour prior to each performance.
“Rigoletto” runs through March 30 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For information on evening and matinee performances, call 312-332-2244 or visit www.lyricopera.org. North suburban commuters: Evening performances run from 7:30 to about 10 p.m., with plenty of time on weeknights to catch the 10:35 p.m. train north to Waukegan from Ogilvie Transportation Center or the 10:35 p.m. train north to Fox Lake from Union Station.
Dorothy Andries is a performing arts critic and reviews Lyric Opera performances for Make It Better.