Opera Idaho Swings for the Fences with 'Rigoletto'

by


On a frigid Sunday afternoon, elderly women in fur coats, young men in cardigans, old men in bow ties and young women in dresses took their seats at the Morrison Center for the Nov. 16 performance of Opera Idaho’s Rigoletto. A visual survey of people in attendance would suggest that at least in Boise, classic opera is for everyone.

It was fitting: Rigoletto is a topical, everyman sort of opera about privilege, group-think and double standards—themes that Opera Idaho found plenty of ways to explore in its proficient if not fully satisfying production. In this 1851 Giuseppi Verdi opera, Rigoletto (baritone Mark Rucker) is a court jester who serves the Duke of Mantua (tenor Won Whi Choi), an inveterate womanizer whose shenanigans precipitate a curse upon Rigoletto’s head. When the Duke takes a shining to Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda (soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez), the jester takes drastic (and ultimately tragic) steps for revenge upon the sociopathic Duke.

This was a large-scale production. The voluminous and elaborately dressed cast filled the Morrison Center stage, and the multiple original sets added to the drama of the opera's proceedings. Music billowed out of the orchestra pit. The trappings were just right for a lavish production but despite the whirlwind of color, sound and design, Rigoletto was plagued by flat performances by Rucker and Choi. 

Rucker hit the stage in an overstuffed costume and wielding a bulky club. In his elaborate getup, he could barely move. As one audience member noted after the performance, “You could push him down a flight of stairs and he’d come out just fine at the bottom.” It was the only thing jesterish about him: His performance didn't establish the character’s mirth before the story pivoted him into tragedy. By contrast, the cynical Duke was portrayed by Choi with radiant light-heartedness. Lopez’s Gilda, however, added dimension to the cloistered daughter trope and though her character isn’t as loud or flamboyant as others in the opera, seeing her develop Gilda is one of the subtler pleasures of this production.

When the curtains rose and the cast took its bows, the ovation felt half-hearted: With its lavish sets and costumes, Rigoletto came across as solid but uninspired.