Canadian Opera Company: September - October 2011

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Photos From Canadian Opera Company's Production of 'Rigoletto'
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Saturday October 1, 2011

COC's Rigoletto: A Thinking Person's Feast for the Eyes and Ears

by Brian Hay

Canadian Opera Company's production of 'Rigoletto' by Giuseppe Verdi is a thinking individual's delight that's served impeccably by the delights it offers to the eyes and ears.

Michael Levine's stage design provides a setting that's opulent yet dark. The wardrobe he created enhances these facets as well. The principle players, 'Rigoletto' and the 'Duke' and characters that immediately support them are dressed in a manner that's dark but formal. The wardrobe assigned to secondary characters such as 'Countess Ceprano' and the Page was bright and vibrant. The strongest of the supporting characters to be colourfully outfitted is Sparafucile's sister, 'Maddalena'. Her wardrobe darkens as her prominence in the drama increases. The exception to this is the character of Gilda. As part of her father's world she's clothed in the darkened manner that envelops it. Exposed and vulnerable she appears in the purest white conceivable.

The lighting, designed by Duane Schuler, casts shadows that play off of everything, animate and inanimate. They follow characters and enhance their actions. They clothe the set, subduing and highlighting different parts as needed. As the first scene closes they shroud the activity on the back half of the stage allowing performers to begin moving props in preparation for the next scene. The movement is obvious but subdued in a way that it pushes the eye toward the action in the foreground. That's only one item in a long list instances where lighting enables scene changes to remain an active part of the staging. Those transitions, created by Stage Manager Jenifer Kowal, flow easily within this framework.

The music was handled impeccably. The work of the male chorus coached by Sandra Horst served the drama beautifully at every turn. The smaller roles sung by Mireille Asselin, Jacqueline Woodley, John Kriter, Adrian Kramer, Alain Coulombe, Megan Latham, and Neil Craighead were all played with flair and panache. Robert Pomakov used the sheer power of his bass voice to project the violent hatred in the character 'Monterone' chillingly. Kendal Gladen was a delight as she captured the irony found within the character of 'Maddalena'. Phillip Ens made the character of the assassin 'Sparafucile' very human. The remorse he expressed as he adhered to the honour of his code was almost tangible.

David Lomelí's performance as the cocksure Duke was pure fun. He made the arrogance of the man charming and kept the humour in the character squarely in the middle of his portrayal. That little click of the heels signifying another notch had to put a smile on most faces. His tenor voice suited the material beautifully. Simone Osborne, still a member of COC's ensemble, played every facet of 'Gilda's' character well. The lure she felt for the Duke was as seductive to watch as it was supposed to be for her to feel. Her pleas for mercy were heart-rending. Lester Lynch captured everything about the character of Rigoletto. His self-loathing and indulgence in self-pity was as heartfelt as his tenderness toward his daughter. His steadfast adherence to the idea that he was without blame for the state his life had reached was like a window into his soul. His desire to avenge himself was thrilling to watch. His ultimate realization of where the blame lay was portrayed beautifully. It was a dramatic tour de force.

Under the baton of Johannes Debus the playing of the COC Orchestra smouldered with the passions in Verdi's score right from the opening bars. They built up the tensions within the music beautifully. They made expressions of tenderness bloom like a flower and they made their thunder roar like a beasts crawling from the abyss. The layout of of the orchestra was a bit different for this production. The brass players were set behind the violins but opposite the other groupings of string players. The timpani was behind the other wind players and at the centre rather than off to one side. It changed the sonic balance to place more emphasis on the brass parts. Thanks to the acoustics of the Four Seasons Centre it was very effective.

There was an abundance of highlights. Lester Lynch and Simone Osborne had great chemistry together. The seduction scene in the second act was performed under rose coloured lighting with blood red petals floating down from above. The hues magnified the power of the Duke's attraction and Gilda's vulnerability. The lightness of the instrumental music behind them underscored his lack of sincerity well. Brilliant use of shadows, superb singing and acting and the raw fury in Verdi's music combined to make the scenes involving 'Monterone' almost horrifying. 'La Donna è Mobile' was performed with the Duke standing amidst a grouping of props that created an illusory but powerful impression of the players being caught on a gigantic chess board. It was gorgeous.

Director Christopher Alden's vision of 'Rigoletto' is of a world where darkness lives behind doors that are barely closed and constantly threatening to burst open. The characters observe protocols while raging with passions and age old hatreds. They're vibrant, alive, sensuous, dark, and above all, conflicted. The staging probes the depths of the human condition while never losing sight of its intent to entertain.

Seeing this production, with this cast, is a must.

Canadian Opera Company's Production of 'Rigoletto' plays with this cast together on October 13, 17 and 20. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. The production can be seen with Quinn Kelsey and Ekaterina Sadovnikova in the leading roles on October 2, 5, 8, 14, 16, 18 and 22.. David Lomelì appears as the Duke on October 2, 8, 13, 17 and 20. Showtimes on the 2nd and 16th are 2:00 p.m. while showtime on the 8th is 4:30 p.m. All other shows begin at 7:30 p.m.

This performance of 'Rigoletto' took place at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto Ontario on Friday September 30, 2011. This review was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.

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Lester Lynch as Rigoletto with Simone Osborne as Gilda
From COC's Production of 'Rigoletto'
Photo by John Currid

Simone Osborne:
Official Site

Canadian Opera Company:
Official Site