Opera San Jose Presents – Rigoletto



Opera San Jose opened it’s 31st season this past Saturday with a spectacular performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto.
Rigoletto tells the story of a hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, (played this evening by Matthew Hanscom), his boss, the Duke of Mantua (Kirk Dougherty) and the tragedy that unfolds when Rigoletto’s daughter ultimately sacrifices her life for the man she loves.
Just before the curtain rises, a dark, but larger than life court jester appears on the dimly lit stage. A single spotlight shines down on the opera’s namesake Rigoletto, casting a menacing shadow behind him setting the tone for the rest of the show. Matthew Hanscom was very good as Rigoletto vocally and theatrically. He was able to convey the torture Rigoletto endured as the court jester, as well as the cruel side of him that made him an enemy of many in the Duke’s court.


After discovering his daughter has become another notch in the belt of the womanizing Duke of Mantua, the Duke of Monterone come to the Duke of Mantua’s castle to casts a curse on both the Duke of Mantua and his cruel court-jester Rigoletto. Haunted by the curse, Rigoletto races home to check on his beloved, but secret daughter Gilda (Isabella Ivy, making her company debut). Rigoletto believes his daughter to be safe from harm, but does not know that she has fallen in love with a man she sees at church. She believes this man is a poor student, but he is in fact the Duke of Mantua.

Soprano Isabella Ivy is absolutely amazing in the role of Rigoletto’s love struck daughter Gilda. Her expression of love she feels for the Duke at the end of Act I is the perfect vehicle to display her vocal abilities. Her voice is enchanting and beautiful. You could not help but be moved by her declaration of love for the Duke. You want so badly for their love story to come true…but alas, this is an opera…and you don’t see too many Disney stories based on the happy endings of operas. Rigoletto believes he is safe from the curse, but the courtiers of the Duke trick Rigoletto into assisting them in the kidnapping of Gilda, who the courtiers believe to be his romantic interest. When Rigoletto finally realizes what has happened and locates his daughter at the Duke’s palace, he discovers his daughter has been dishonored.

Rigoletto vows to exact revenge on the Duke and hires Sparafucile (Silas Elash) to murder him. Despite being dishonored by the Duke, Gilda is still in love with him. Her father brings her to a bar to witness his womanizing ways. It is here that Kirk Dougherty belts out the operas most famous aria “La donna è mobile”. Where Dougherty seemed vocally overmatched and shaky earlier in the performance, he delivered in this act. Despite what she has witnessed, Gilda still loves him, but agrees to dress as a man and flee the city where she will wait for her father to join her. Rigoletto pays Sparafucile to deliver the Duke’s body to him in a bag so that he can throw it in the river. As part of the plan, Sparafucile has his sister, the sultry Maddalena (company resident Lisa Chavez) seduce the Duke. When he is not expecting it, Sparafucile will murder him. While trying to seduce him, Maddalena also is fallen victim to the Duke’s charms and finds herself in love with him. She begs her brother to kill another man and let the Duke live. Her brother agrees to kill the next man that wanders into the inn.

Rigoletto comes to it’s tragic conclusion when Gilda, driven by love, returns to the inn to save the Duke, only to be murdered and used as a substitute for the Duke’s body. Just as Rigoletto is about to throw the bag in the river, he hears the Duke once again singing ‘La donna è mobile’ and realizes the tragedy that has unfolded.

I am not sure if it is the new leadership of Opera San Jose (now headed by General Director Larry Hancock) or of this was just a particularly outstanding cast, but this production of Rigoletto was the strongest show I have seen from Opera San Jose. The performances were all around solid, the sets were engaging and the production was exciting to watch from start to finish. I look forward to seeing what this company will do throughout the season.

Rigoletto runs now through September 21, 2014. Tickets are available at www.operasj.org

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