Live Opera in Concert: Rigoletto at the Hollywood Bowl

By Jane Rosenberg

A tranquil Sunday summer night in the cradle of the Hollywood Bowl could hardly have been more antithetical to the musical selection of the evening: a concert performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto – a grand tragedy of a father’s failure to protect his innocent daughter from rape and ultimate death.

Giuseppi Verdi

Among the most beautiful of Verdi operas, replete with impassioned melodies, tender duets, and memorable tunes, Rigoletto is not only musically stunning but also Shakespearean in scope.  To be sure, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, captured the magnificence of the score; and though much of the singing was satisfying, the dramatic necessity of this most heartrending of all operas was lost in the staging.

As in most concert versions of operas, the soloists shared the stage with the orchestra and chorus. Positioned apart, squarely facing the audience at all times, the main principals, Zeljko Lucic as Rigoletto, David Lomeli as the Duke, and Irina Lungu as Gilda, along with the rest of the cast, sang enthusiastically but without much in the way of human interaction.  An occasional glance at one another was the extent of their contact. And though one could argue that the drama is sustainable by the vivid music alone; opera, after all, is more than music – it’s an all involving, all encompassing experience, bringing together music, drama, visual art, even, at times, dance.

Zeljko Lucic

Of the singers, Lucic, alone, sang with the conviction of his character, persuading us, both musically and dramatically, of his vengefulness on the one hand and his tender love for his daughter on the other.  His rich and pliant baritone, combined with his experience performing the title role of the hunchbacked jester at the world’s leading opera houses, offered the audience a glimpse into the depths of Rigoletto’s character – a character of near mythic quality, first penned by Victor Hugo in Le Roi S’Amuse and then reimagined in the Verdi opera.

David Lomeli, whose bright and graceful tenor rang out as the Duke of Mantua, pleased the ear, but nowhere was there dramatic evidence of his duplicitous character as the amoral Duke.  Irony is in abundance in Verdi’s and the librettist, Piave’s, masterpiece.  When the Duke sings in the final act “La donna e mobile: Qual piume al vento.” (Women are frequently fickle: he who trusts them is mad), there is a frightening undercurrent: the Duke is singing, not about women, but about his own detestable behavior – compromising innocent daughters for his own pleasure, leading inevitably to tragedy.  Standing alone, this aria seems lighthearted; however within the context of the opera, it should convey layers of meaning.

As Gilda, the Russian soprano, Irina Lungu, was off to a thin and tepid start, but her voice gained in expressiveness as the evening wore on.  Unfortunately, her performance suffered from a lack of dramatic conviction: no display of a daughter’s deep devotion, no rapturous love for her seducer in evidence.

Gustavo Dudamel

Drama, however, exuded from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the orchestra, and its conductor.  None of the performers, with the exception of Lucic, matched the intensity of Dudamel’s conducting, whose face and gestures were more expressive than the soloists.  From the first haunting chords of the opera to its tragic end, the orchestra played as a potently convincing whole.  The Master Chorale, seated behind them at the back of the stage, provided a wall of glorious sound; and Dudamel achieved a satisfying balance of soloists, chorus, and instrumentalists.  In the atmospheric storm music of Act Three, Verdi simulates the sound of the rising wind by the humming of off-stage voices.  One of the thrills of the evening was to hear the men of the Master Chorale, onstage, embody the wind as it traveled the length and breadth of the chorus, rising and falling with eerie precision.

In the role of the tragic Count Monterone, whose curse sets the entire opera in motion, Ryan McKinny displayed an elegant, if too understated, bass-baritone.  In the role of Sparafucile the innkeeper/assassin, Alexander Tsymbalyuk offered a lustrous bass, and as his sister Maddalena, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, with her earthy mezzo-soprano, had presence but was difficult to hear in the iconic final act quartet.

With his commitment to opera in full swing, from Mozart to Bizet to Puccini, and now Verdi, Dudamel has enriched the operatic life of the city, already blessed with the Los Angeles Opera.  Whether we sit in the sonorous Disney Hall and listen to the LA Phil’s upcoming Le Nozze di Figaro in 2013, or picnic at the Hollywood Bowl to the strains of Rigoletto, how lucky we are as Los Angelenos to share a Summer night under the stars and a glass of wine with friends, while listening to the ravishing music of Verdi.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.

To read more iRoM reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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