Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Jerusalem Opera's latest production - "Rigoletto" - offers audiences pleasure and high-quality performance

Photo courtesy Jerusalem Opera
Following its recent successful production of Gounod’s “La Colombe”, the Jerusalem Opera’s tenth major production was Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. With stage direction by Gabriele Ribis (Italy), local and guest soloists, male singers of the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir (conductor: Ronen Borshevsky) and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Omer Arieli, the Jerusalem Opera’s musical director. This writer attended the performance in the Sherover Theatre of the Jerusalem Theatre on December 5th 2019. Established in 2011, the Jerusalem Opera’s goals are presenting opera productions of the highest quality in Jerusalem and the promotion of Israeli artists.

 

Never one to shy away from powerful political statements, Giuseppe Verdi created “Rigoletto” to expose the debauchery of the aristocracy and to condemn others supporting it.  With a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, its content largely based on Victor Hugo’s controversial play “Le Roi s’amuse” (1832), the opera takes us to the court of the Duke of Mantua, a diehard womanizer who shows little respect for human dignity. Rigoletto, his court jester, makes a point of encouraging the Duke’s immoral behaviour and mocking the victims of his endless lust. But Rigoletto keeps secret the identity of his only daughter, Gilda, whom he wishes to protect from the immorality of the court. Soon enough, however, she also falls for the Duke’s vices and Rigoletto plans a personal vendetta which misfires tragically. Despite the strong pressure of the moral and religious censorship of the time, “Rigoletto” premiered in March 1851 at La Fenice in Venice. It was received with great enthusiasm and, by 1861, the opera had already enjoyed close to 300 performances and was to go down in history as one of Verdi’s most enduring successes. 

 

As the opera begins, the Sherover Theatre stage (designer - Enzo Iorio) displays a tall, imposing, not-unattractive scaffolding-like structure, featuring staircases on either side. The group- or crowd scenes take place at ground level, whereas the more illicit actions (mostly the Duke’s womanizing) take place high up on the top level, perhaps representing the place of the lower classes and that of the nobility or “out of sight, out of mind”. Indeed, with the opening crowd scene - colourful, alive with action, strong utterances and suggestive women dancers - Ribis makes clear the state of a divided society and its corrupt regime. Portraying Gilda was Veronika Brook. Born in Estonia in 1990, she studied in the Ukraine before immigrating to Israel in 2014. Her fresh, young, girlish appearance and bright, agile coloratura voice served her well in the role of Gilda. Indeed, one of the evening’s highlights was her duet with her father, (“Figlia! ... Mio padre!”) No new face to the Jerusalem Opera, St. Petersburg-born bass Denis Sedov was imposing as the murderous thief Sparafucile who is enlisted to kill the Duke, with Russian-born bass-baritone Yuri Kissin, in his fourth Jerusalem Opera production, playing Count Monterone with due intensity; it is the latter who casts the awful curse that misfires so tragically. Italian-born Matteo Falcier, one of the most interesting Italian tenors of his generation, combining a fine measure of flair, charisma and devil-may-care nonchalance with the delightful buoyancy of voice, made for a fine representation of the womanizing Duke, as he sealed the role with a winning “La donna e mobile”. And then there is Rigoletto himself. It is a known fact that Verdi was particularly intrigued by the buffoon’s tragic character. His misfortune begins when Gilda falls into the Duke’s seductive trap, then to be murdered. Italian baritone Domenico Balzani’s study of the Rigoletto character (here a somewhat lame man rather than the original hunch-back) is convincing and moving, his vocal colour and body language reflecting the humiliation he undergoes and the degree to which he becomes consumed with the desire for revenge. Altogether, it was a performance of outstanding singing and theatre.

 

Maestro Omer Arieli gave full credit to Verdi’s music as he led the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in playing that was suave, rich in instrumental colour, delicately-shaped and beautifully balanced, with fine-tuned attention to each singer, duet and ensemble. The male sections of the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir added to the performance’s beauty, displaying refined phrasing and highlighting verbal texts with incisive enunciation of textures. Costumes (Shira Wise) were tasteful, with a vivid play of colour in the crowd scenes. And as far as the opera's emotions are concerned, “Rigoletto” has them all - starry-eyed young love, human weaknesses and drives, fatal attraction, the love of a father for his daughter, deviance, hatred, scheming, revenge, malice and heartbreak. Moving seamlessly between the glittering palace of the ruling class and the gritty squalor of those who struggle in servitude, Verdi’s thrilling melodrama boasts complex characters, an action-packed plot and unforgettable music.  At the end of his life, Giuseppe Verdi considered “Rigoletto" his most beautiful and accomplished opera. Moving from strength to strength, the Jerusalem Opera’s production indeed reinforced Verdi’s conjecture in performance that was alive, involving and polished.  

 

 
 
Domenico Balzani - Rigoletto - courtesy Jerusalem Opera


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