Dilettante at Large (DAL) has awakened from her long pandemic slumber, and is once again writing about stuff she knows little about but enjoys, unlike theater which she knows quite a lot about and doesn’t always enjoy. And what better way to begin anew than with opera—especially this gorgeous production of Opera Philadelphia’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto at the perennially gorgeous Academy of Music.
The plot, summarized, goes like this:
The Duke (Joshua Blue’s enormous, wondrous tenor) leads a vile and lascivious life, based on his vast wealth. He is surrounded by a gang of serial rapists in designer suits, military uniforms and clerical robes. #Relevance, right? Their collective attitude toward women is summed up in one of the opera’s famous arias, “questa o quella” (this one or that one).
Rigoletto, the Duke’s jester (Anthony Clark Evans, a deeply moving baritone) is a bitter hunchback whose only joy in life comes from his daughter, Gilda (Raven McMillon whose ravishing soprano — and excellent acting—creates the opera’s emotional highs and lows). Despite Rigoletto’s over-protectiveness, Gilda falls in love with the Duke pretending to be a poor student.
As a prank, the guys decide to kidnap Gilda, thinking Rigoletto lives with a young mistress. Shame and rage inevitably follow.
Rigoletto hires an assassin, Sparafucile (Wei Wu, a fabulously menacing bass) to kill the Duke. His sexy sister Maddalena (Kristen Choi) seduces the Duke, things go sideways, and Gilda winds up dying in her father’s arms in a heartbreaking finale.
The contemporary costumes and the nifty sets designed by Richard Roberts create a world drenched in feminist irony; even the opera’s most famous aria, the rollicking “La donna e mobile” (woman is fickle) becomes a shocking condemnation of the singer.
This updated version was originally created by director Lindy Hume while Daniel Pelzig directs— to great effect— Opera Philadelphia’s production.