Rigoletto ~ Behind the Mask: Vancouver Opera

by: Megan Ejack

Who doesn’t love a masquerade?

It’s a chance to escape for a moment and disguise your true self. Perhaps, even, to explore inner desires. For a short time, reality becomes obscured and people do things they could never otherwise do. But where do you draw the line? Hidden behind masks, anything can happen.


Such is the case with the Vancouver Opera’s version of Giuseppe Verdi’s dark drama, Rigoletto, where nothing is as it seems and fate becomes a crapshoot. After insulting a Count at Court, Rigoletto is cursed and his lovely daughter becomes entangled in conflict, eventually resulting in her death.

This season, the Vancouver Opera seems to be testing the boundaries of ‘traditional’ opera, by pairing edgy, new elements with graphic storylines, which help to contemporize the world of opera, opening it up to a larger audience.

Verdi’s work, originally based on Victor Hugo’s, Le Roi S’Amuse, also features a distinctive departure from tradition, highlighting a series of duets rather than the expected arias.

For this interpretation, they have teamed up with stage director, Glynis Leyshon, and acclaimed designer, Bretta Gerecke to create a very theatrical depiction. The music is immortal, and is reflected in the haunting imagery on stage.

The design was striking. Dark and industrial. An oversized cage encased most of the carnival action at center-stage, and with open flies and barren scaffolding, the set became a twisted playground.

Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

The characters were more like creatures, crawling and scampering up ledges and through fences or suspended from cables. Their ghoulish, masked faces would appear as if from nowhere as they crept through the scaffolding in the darkness. Carefully orchestrated lighting resulted in an ethereal, almost otherworldly essence.

A profound intensity is alive in the depiction of the characters as well. Eglise Gutierrez as Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, was like a tormented angel as she struggled with her destiny; and from the deep baritone of Donnie Ray Albert’s Rigoletto to the endless base notes of Sparafucile the assassin, played by Kirk Eichelberger, a beautifully haunting quality prevailed.

The duets were vivid representations of the torment and trickery of the story, and despite some unevenness in the execution, the vocal acrobatics were astounding.

The evocative portrayal of this tragic tale marks a controversial venture into a new landscape of opera, and sets a bold new standard for `traditional` performance.

Salome, at the Vancouver Opera, is their final show of the 2009 season, running from May 2nd – May 9th.


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