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A Night at the Opera: Verdi's 'Rigoletto'

Events and PerformancesKristina PinoComment

Rigoletto is a prime example of an opera I've heard about most of my life, but never looked into the story or anything. It's an opera that, even if you don't know what it is, you've probably heard something from it. I've learned that this is the case for a lot of popular shows that pass through Florida Grand Opera, and I'm happy to be sharing my thoughts on it.

So what is this song that I claim you've probably heard? Just click here and enjoy Pavarotti's voice performing "La Dona e Mobile" while you keep reading. If you've heard this before, you'll know it within the first line.

Rigoletto is about a Duke's fop of the same name who upset a few too many nobles. His promiscuous master has had his way with many of their women, and one of them, fed up, curses both him and Rigoletto. The nobles find out he keeps a young girl at his home, and decide to take revenge against the fop by stealing her away when they assume the girl is his mistress.

We find out posthaste that the girl is actually the fop's daughter, who he keeps secret, and who also has unfortunately fallen in love with the Duke unbeknown to her father. The Duke himself goes to visit her the very night, proclaims his love (claiming he's a poor student) and leaves, just in time for her to be abducted and find herself right in his palace. Betrayed, but still in love, she begs her father to forgive and forget. As opera tend to go, this is where the story takes an awful turn.

Rigoletto wants vengeance. He hires a sword who, together with his sister, lures marks to his home, kills them and dumps them in the river for money. The fop takes his daughter there to witness the infidelity and betrayal, and then tells her to dress as a man and take a horse to Verona where he would meet her the following day. She presumably leaves, and Rigoletto leaves the hired arm to do his work. The sister, however, unwittingly falls in love with the Duke instantly, and begs him to kill someone else, or Rigoletto himself, instead. Simply interested in getting his money, he proclaims he'll kill the next man that walks through the door and save the Duke. Guess who walks through the door? None other than Rigoletto's daughter, come to sacrifice herself for the Duke's life.

You could imagine what happens next: The fop returns to finish the deal, and just when he's about to dump his daughter's body to the water he hears the Duke singing a reprise of "La Dona e Mobile" (the song linked above about fickle women). He then discovers her, mortally wounded, and after a quick duet where she begs him to forgive, he weeps, remembering the curse.

As dramatic and sad opera go, this isn't as depressing as I expected it to be. I felt sad at the end, but not like I might have had I watched Madama Butterfly or something else even more devastating. It's sad, because you watch a father take all the steps to keep secret his daughter, the single most important thing of his life, try to protect her, and then have to avenge her, and fail.

The flip side is although the story is a heavy one, I was completely blown away by the performances of the various players. Throughout the show, you could hear frequent whistles and bewildered exclamations of "wow, incredible!" during each number. Granted, the players cast for these things tend to be quite good consistently, but this performance was exceptional.

Everyone did a spectacular job, particularly the soprano Nadine Sierra who played the role of Rigoletto's daughter Gilda, and had a gorgeous trill to her voice that is most pleasant. The other unexpected (but certainly not unwanted) voice that wow'd everyone (and I'm not mentioning Mark Walters who played Rigoletto or our Duke, Michael Fabiano - they are givens and did a fantastic job) was the tenor of Kevin Langan, the voice of Sparafucile, the assassin. The bass of his tenor is nothing short of amazing, and he got plenty of cheers from the crowd after his number with Rigoletto and at the curtain call.

This show was packed. There were more bodies in the opera house than usual because Rigoletto is such a popular, well-known show. I saw more children in the audience than I tend to, and it was nice to see so many people interested in seeing this beautiful show and supporting our Florida Grand Opera. I definitely recommend it if you could catch the show this season, if only to appreciate the music and performances (example: Mark Walters is someone I've seen before, and it's great seeing familiar faces on stage) regardless of the sad story that accompanies them.

The next (and last) show for me this season is Romeo & Juliette, which isn't until the end of April by my calendar. It's also the "headline" show for the season, and I expect it will be packed to the brim with people. I'll be back with another 'Night at the Opera' after I see that tragedy.

[read what South Florida Classical Review had to say about Rigoletto]