Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Kiss Me, Rigoletto

October 23, 2006

Chirico The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914
On Saturday night, I finally saw San Francisco Opera's current production of Rigoletto. Of course the bad news about seeing the show so late in the run was that it featured the "B-team" Rigoletto of Valery Alexejev instead of Paolo Gavanelli who had received generally good notices for his performance. Further complicating this situation was the announcement (made by the general director David Gockley who received thunderous applause for no apparent reason other than moving the supertitles) that Mr. Alexejev had been suffering from bronchitis but was going to perform against doctor's advice and asked our indulgence.

I'm never sure how we are supposed to take this news. I feel it's a bit of a set up in that it seems designed to lower expectations and/or elicit sympathy. Generally I don't tend to think of people who ignore their doctor's instructions as brave but as foolish or, worse yet, stupid. Alexejev was rocky, underpowered, and totally absent in the lower end of his range. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it wasn't. Who cares anyway? - the real star of the show was Mary Dunleavy's Gilda, which was great. She also outclassed Giuseppi Gipali's Duke by a longshot.

All of this transpired in a somewhat surreal Court of Mantua designed by Michael Yeargan who was reportedly influenced by the paintings of Italian surrealist Giorgio di Chirico (1888-1978). They did create an eerie quality, but this was undercut by Mantua's strong resemblence to Padua as designed by Richard Pefferle for the 1953 film adaptation of Kiss Me, Kate. Though Yeargan's design was more poorly lit and somewhat less colorful on the War memorial Opera House stage, I was ready for Ann Miller and Bob Fosse to pop out and break into "Tom, Dick, or Harry" at any moment. You make the call:
Mantua Photo: Terrence McCarthy 2006

My only other qualm about a generally good production was that the movement problems afflicting the Swedish from the season opening Ballo have apparently spread to Italy (and Cornwall and Brittany, too, as Sunday would reveal) suggesting that Europe may have much bigger concerns than an impending bird flu. The performers seemed glued to the stage, unable to budge. Since this problem has been attached to three different directors in only two months, my theory is that the SF Opera follow-spot operator has developed carpal tunnel syndrome and everyone is trying to facilitate a speedy recovery. With all these thoughts of disease, maybe it's harder to notice how sadistic an opera Rigoletto really is. But maybe that is not such a bad thing.


Your "Kiss Me, Kate" production analogy was not only hilarious but spot on. And I really can't go to "Rigoletto" again for the reason you mentioned in the your last sentence. The piece is unendingly sadistic without a single person to root for, including masochistic Gilda.

Love your site. Hope you liked listening to the "Tristan" a bit later in the weekend, even though the 400-pound singers were rooted to their spots on the stage (which in that particular opera doesn't really bother me).
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