After presenting its new, controversial and visually stunning production of “Lohengrin,” the L.A. Opera returns to business as usual with a cartoon “Rigoletto.” No one will be able to quibble with director Mark Lamos’ interpretation of Verdi’s great melodrama about a hunchback court jester whose self-loathing leads to the murder of his child Gilda. There is no real interpretation or even “take” on the material. It’s just stand-up and sing against Michael Yeargan’s primary-color cut-out set. Fortunately, most of the principals deliver vocally, with James Conlon stirring up lots of Verdi fire in the pit.
Director Lydia Steier’s WWI update of “Lohengrin” presents a concept that creates a palpable strife-torn German community for the characters to live, breathe and sing in. With “Rigoletto,” it appears that Lamos and Yeargan never communicated their comic-strip approach to Constance Hoffman, who presents conventional Opera 101 costumes (the courtesans painted nipples in the opening party are the one novel touch), or Mark McCullough, whose footlights lighting is right out of the 19th century. Is that the point? Verdi’s characters are cardboard, so give them a cardboard environment?
Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto, on the other hand, gave Verdi the opportunity to express his darkest feelings about the sexes and his most tender regarding the filial bond. Vocally, the evening’s most impressive moments belong to the latter, in the duets featuring Sarah Coburn’s plangent Gilda and George Gagnidze’s rough-hewn Rigoletto.
As for the sex, any duke would fall in lust with Coburn after hearing her loving “Caro nome.” What Gilda, after she is raped by the duke, sees in Gianluca Terranova is another matter. He’s got amazing breath and there’s a first-rate tenor somewhere atop those big lungs, but his execution is provincial to the point of parody. The L.A. Opera audience, of course, loved him. And in a way, he fits right into this cartoon “Rigoletto.”