Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Any Tom, Duke, or Harry

November 27, 2010

Sarah Coburn and George Gagnidze in Rigoletto Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2010

Saturday brought a change of pace to Los Angeles Opera. It was the opening performance of the company’s new to L.A. production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which marks the first Italian opera the company has mounted in nearly a year, since Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. (Mozart’s Italian-language Le Nozze di Figaro did appear earlier this fall, but is arguably more of a German/Austrian opera than an Italianate one.) What’s more, the company has been on a tear artistically for well over two years with one artistically substantial production after the next. (And I would include among those the current overly-maligned production of Wagner's Lohengrin, which is far, far better than you may have read elsewhere.) However, even a perfect batting record is not a guarantee of success on every outing, and this current Rigoletto, despite some very worthwhile elements, is decidedly earth-bound. That's not to say bad, just exceedingly ordinary.

George Gagnidze in Rigoletto Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2010

Let’s start with the good news, shall we? James Conlon is in the pit with a spirited and very dramatic take on the score with the increasingly excellent L.A. Opera orchestra. He’s given us some wonderful Verdi during his time in L.A. including a still-talked-about Don Carlo and a La Traviata that lives on DVD. He’s joined by a cast with some strong voices. Foremost among these is George Gagnidze in the title role. Gagnidze is one of the world’s foremost Rigoletto’s at this time and has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in this role as well as many other stages. His expertise in the part shows, and his performance has weight and a significant edge to it. He's a fine and very watchable actor. He meshes well with American Sarah Coburn who sang Gilda. Coburn is a company favorite, and while I could have wished for a little more warmth and a little less vibrato along the way from her, it was a strong performance.

Unfortunately, none of this was enough to raise the proceedings much above average. The Duke in this run is Gianluca Terranova, who has the requisite swagger, tended to bark a little in his delivery at times and his Act II duet with Gilda seemed a little one sided. The somewhat prosaic staging from director Mark Lamos with sets by Michael Yeargen is admittedly not a favorite of mine. It is borrowed from San Francisco, where it was last seen in 2006. Time has not changed much about its cartoonish, brightly colored look which is supposed to evoke the Italian surrealist paintings of Giorgio di Chirico (1888-1978). More often than not though, I’m reminded of the sets for the 1953 MGM film version of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. From the moment the curtain rises you expect folks to break out into “From This Moment On.” It’s not a completely static show, but its visually dull and the geometric shapes and candy colors can cut against the more tragic elements of this most depraved of operas. However, this is a Rigoletto not without its charms, and it does provide a reason to look at some of those Ann Miller classics on You Tube.


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