Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi – Opéra de Montréal
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi – The Opéra de Montréal is opening its 39th season with Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi. The cast brings together exceptional Canadian singers and stars of the opera world in a work that explores such highly topical subjects as the abuse of power and a man’s complete control over a young woman’s fate… Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi will give Montrealers the ultimate Italian opera experience!
Opera neophytes will find what they have come looking for in such famous arias as “La donna è mobile” and “Caro nome” in this production that is sure to enchant the general public both musically and vocally, as well as on a theatrical level. Verdi’s music unrelentingly pulls the audience into the story. The curse motif will haunt listeners as much as it does Rigoletto. The sinister sounds of the storm sung by the chorus will chill the blood of those watching Gilda race to her death.
“Rigoletto is the first of Verdi’s great masterpieces to perfectly blend the music with the dramatic action. The melodies—each more touching than the last—and the powerful orchestration underscore Verdi’s exceptional theatrical skills. Filial love, the curse, social inequalities and tensions… themes that so captivated the composer are expressed with sublime eloquence. The cast confirms the excellence of our Canadian opera talent in Myriam Leblanc (Gilda) and James Westman (Rigoletto), both of whom are making their debuts in their respective roles. Also here for us to discover are wonderful tenor Rame Lahaj (the Duke of Mantua) and conductor Carlo Montanaro, leading the Orchestre Métropolitain,” explains Michel Beaulac, Artistic Director of the Opéra de Montréal.
Opéra de Montréal box office: 514-985-2258 • 1 877 385-2222
Place des Arts box office: 514-842-2112 • 1 866 842-2112
Starting at $25
Get in on the act! Get the opera experience online at operademontreal.com
The Story: A grieving father’s curse
Inspired by Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, Rigoletto is the story of a jester in the court of the Duke of Mantua—a sexual predator the jester must defend while at the same time desperately trying to protect his own daughter from him, keeping her hidden away at home. Unfortunately, Rigoletto’s defense of the Duke through the mocking and humiliation of Monterone—whose own daughter the Duke has seduced—earns the jester a curse from the grieving father… a curse from which he cannot escape…
The Work: From Triboulet to Rigoletto, a difficult process
In 1848-1849, a series of revolutions—sometimes referred to as the “People’s Spring”—shook Europe. In Italy, these revolts bore a strong nationalist slant aimed at, among other things, unifying the country and freeing the peninsula from Austrian domination. While the revolts were rather quickly crushed and controlled, they were considered to be a fundamental step in the Risorgimento, a movement that led to the unification of Italy in 1861 and that, at the time, would use Verdi’s name as an emblem. Is it merely a coincidence that shortly after these revolutions, on September 7, 1849, Verdi first expressed his interest in Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse? Hugo’s play—a critique of nobility and the monarchy featuring a court in which debauchery reigns—was considered to be highly subversive and was banned after just one performance. Verdi was fascinated with the subject of the play and especially with the character of Triboulet [Rigoletto] who he considered to be “worthy of Shakespeare” (letter to Piave, May 8, 1850). Since he was to compose an opera for Teatro La Fenice in Venice, he asked his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, to “turn Venice upside-down and talk the Censor into permitting this subject” (May 8, 1850), which was quite a challenge following the experience of 1848-1849, as the Austrian powers were even more on their guard, further strengthening their censorship. Thankfully for us, Piave told Verdi he had taken care of it, thereby enabling them to get to the task at hand. However, in November 1850, they learned that the work was forbidden. Furious at his librettist, Verdi refused to make the requested compromises: he could not eliminate the curse, which was essential to the story, nor would he make the Duke a harmless character (Verdi wrote “the Duke must absolutely be a libertine!”), Triboulet [Rigoletto] had to be deformed, and Gilda’s body had to be carried in a sack at the end, otherwise the drama would be lost (“Of what consequence was the sack to the police?”). Finally, after having agreed to transform the king into the Duke of Mantua and to change the names of the other characters, they arrived at a compromise, which is the opera as we know it today. Despite these ups and downs, Rigoletto was a resounding success right from the start, with performances in 250 opera houses around the world in the decade following its premiere on March 11, 1851.
Rigoletto’s music reflects Verdi’s passion for the subject matter. In this work—which, with Il trovatore and La traviata, is considered by musicologists to be the start of a new compositional period for Verdi—, the composer refines his musical descriptions of the characters and breaks several Italian opera conventions for dramatic effect: the proceedings can sometimes interrupt a duet (as is the case for Rigoletto and Gilda’s duet, where Rigoletto stops during the reprise to investigate a sound), and arias can take on a dramatic function (such as with “La donna è mobile,” which serves to reveal to Rigoletto that it is not the Duke he is carrying in his sack). The score’s energy and its steady rhythm carry the listener towards the inevitable result of Monterone’s curse in this opera that Verdi called “my finest” (letter to Cesare De Sanctis, January 20, 1855). The opera’s continued success on the world’s stages shows that he was right.
Opera: Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi
Structure: 3 acts
Language: Italian, with English and French surtitles
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave (after Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo)
Premiere: Venice, Teatro La Fenice, March 11, 1851
Set design: Robert Dahlstrom
Production: Seattle Opera Scenic Studios
Costumes: Opéra de Montréal
Last presented at the Opéra de Montréal: September 2010
Recognized for his “commanding voice” and “fine acting” (Kevin Wells, Backtrack 2017 and Ed Tapper, Boston Edge Network 2017), Canadian baritone James Westman—who specializes in Verdian and Puccinian roles—is the ideal choice to portray Rigoletto, a character Verdi praised as being “deformed and ridiculous on the outside but passionate and full of love inside” (letter to Marzari, December 14, 1850). Alongside him, Canadian soprano and former Atelier lyrique member Myriam Leblanc portrays his daughter Gilda. Acclaimed for her “voice of rare beauty” (Caroline Rodgers, La Presse 2016), the “ethereal finesse” of her singing, and her ability to express “a range of emotions” (Jeanne Hourez, Sors-tu? 2018), she will reveal every facet of this young girl whose innocence has been stolen. Joining the duo of high-calibre performers is Kosovar tenor Rame Lahaj, a winner of Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition, as the unscrupulously libertine Duke of Mantua, one of the roles that launched his international career. In the villainous roles of hired killer Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena are Canadian bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and Montreal mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule, returning to her hometown stage after several appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Members of the Atelier lyrique appear in the supporting roles alongside this exceptional cast in this production directed by Michael Cavanagh, well-known in North America both for his brilliant stage direction and his career as an educator working with young artists. The Atelier lyrique members are Max Van Wyck (Marullo), Sebastian Haboczki (Servant), Scott Brooks (Monterone), Rose Naggar-Tremblay (Giovanna), Rocco Rupolo (Borsa), Elizabeth Polese (Countess Ceprano), Brenden Friesen (Count Ceprano), and Andrea Núñez (Page).
Internationally renowned Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro leads the Orchestre Métropolitain and the Opéra de Montréal Chorus (prepared by Claude Webster). Set design is by Robert Dahlstrom.