Of all the mischievous dramatic reversals that line Rigoletto’s plot – the hunchbacked jester tricked into abducting his own daughter, the daughter tricked into loving the brainless Duke (posing as a penniless student), and the terrifying reunion of father and daughter in a scene of murder – is not the most breathtaking, after all, the fact that the opera begins with a convincing display of the debauched status of romance but then confronts us, for the remainder of Act I, with all the innocence and conviction of Gilda’s first love? Don Giovanni also begins with Leporello prowling outside a scene of cuckoldry, but when the innocent pair, Masetto and Zerlina, are introduced, the Don is already there mucking things up. Verdi’s audacity is that he first shows us a public ball in which women and men are taking their marriage vows lightly (bluntly reinforced in the Lyric Opera’s production with a crimson bed and half-naked Duke placed in the midst of the party), but then stages a love scene that completely eclipses the cynicism that preceded it (although, of course, we know Gilda’s love will not last long).

Albina Shagimuratova, Andrzej Dobber © Dan Rest
Albina Shagimuratova, Andrzej Dobber
© Dan Rest

Part of the conviction is due to Albina Shagimuratova, the Russian soprano who plays Gilda in all shows at the Lyric’s Rigoletto. She doesn’t count beats; she breathes. Every phrase seems to be born out of a deep necessity. In her singing you understand how Verdi should sound, these squarish and neatly folded phrases emerging from the giant lung of singer and orchestra together. Andrzej Dobber is quite good as Rigoletto, but never better than when he’s paired with Gilda. I wish the same could be said for Giuseppe Filianoti as the Duke, but an early mistake cost him the assurance and relaxed arrogance a Duke needs. One hopes that, once the opening-night jitters are out of the way, his duets with Gilda and Maddalena will feel a little less forced.

Andrea Silvestrelli, the Lyric regular with the great bear voice, is a little monochromatic here as Sparafucile. The danger that faces a voice known for its distinctive color is that color can get boring. I hope he finds a new urgency in this role that leads him to explore new areas of shading and intensity. And though he sings only twice (and appears, in a wonderfully theatrical moment, in spotlight at the production’s end), I will remember Todd Thomas as Monterone as one of the stand-outs of the show. In the brief space he has, he establishes a presence worthy of the curse he wields. His voice, like his gait, like his presence, seem all to emerge organically from some inner source. Like Shagimuratova, he thinks of Verdi first dramatically and then lyrically, which is as it should be. If the entire cast followed their lead, this would have been a Rigoletto to remember.

***11