Riveting Rigoletto in Gozo Print E-mail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

rigoletto 2023 astra 01







JOHN GALEA, conductor

ENRICO STINCHELLI, artistic director

Every year in October Gozo is agog with its brief 2-opera season. It is the culmination of long months of dedicated preparation and hard work, a lot of which is voluntary.

The Astra Opera House presents the two performances of the year's chosen work on the last Thursday and Saturday of the month. This October the choice was Verdi's very popular Rigoletto (1851) the first of Verdi's legendary trilogy of the early 1850s.

This was the 4th time that Rigoletto graced the Astra's stage since January 1978. It had been with Rigoletto that the Astra put on its first opera production within its walls. Rigoletto returned in 1998, 2009 and last week. Under review here is the first of the two performances put on this year.

Some opera buffs moan and groan about choices made in Gozo. Not this or that again! Even if with at least several years between such events. Four in almost 56 years is an average of one every 14 years. Gaps for Rigoletto range ftom a maximum 20 to a minimum 10 years. Then say I, it is wise to wait for a masterpiece to be allowed to prove WHY it remains popular.

A stellar cast and all that makes a success of a high quality production was the case with the Astra's Rigoletto-2023. It is a great piece of theatre: love, drama, cynical debauchery, vengeance, murder, a curse AND a gorgeous score.This was a truly riveting experience. No amount of performances could fail to be a moving experience once it is lovingly put on.

Well, most know what is going to happen. Those who don't could refer to the synopsis published in the booklet. Yes, one looks forward to the merry-making in the opening scene; the perforce caddish Duke's cynicism and open wooing of his own courtier Count Ceprano's (bass Noel Galea) wife the Countess), soprano Hilda Grima.

Rigoletto (superb baritone Simone Piazzola) abets the Duke, (a pretty feisty tenor, Gianluca Terranova). Rigoletto reveals the nasty side to his character, mocks the wronged, hurt Count Monterone (finely interpreted by baritone Louis Andrew Cassar) who curses him for his heartlessness and makes him cringe in terror.

The plot moves on from there. There is the revelation of another side to Rigoletto's complex character. That is his controlling, over-possessive love for his daughter Gilda, (the exquisite soprano Enkeleda Kamani). The voices of Kamani and Piazzola blended ideally in their duets in Act 1 scene 2 and Act 2 scene 1, (the chilling Vendetta duet).

The father-daughter relationship often used by Verdi in some of his operas, was well- projected by this pair of singers both of whom superbly endowed with magnificent voices. Kamani's Caro nome and later Tutte le feste al tempio were great moments, as were Piazzola's own great moments in Pari siamo and the fiery rage and ultimate gut-wrenching collapse in Cortigiani, vil razza dannata!

Right from the start and at crucial points in the opera a black veiled shadowy female appears behind Rigoletto: it the curse which torments him and crushes him. The one who deserves punishment, the Duke of Mantua, gets away with it. Terranova had his fine moments too: in the flighty Questa o quella; in the love duet with Gilda, swept away by her insincere "student" suitor. He gets irate in Ella mi fu` rapita, not out of concern for Gilda, but for having thought some other villain had, (truth be said), deflowered her before he could, and later does any way. His other high point was the cheeky La donna e` mobile.

Rigoletto turns ballistic with hatred for the Duke. There was a brief meeting in Act 1, scene 2, between Rigoletto and the hired, "honest" assassin Sparafucile (another fine bass Dario Russo). Here there was a walk-on appearance of the assassin's "decoy" and sister Maddalena, the comely, sultry, very good mezzo-soprano Martina Belli.

The siblings appear in the last scene on the banks of the Mincio. The Duke is lured to the tavern from where Sparafucile runs his business. The famous quartet was splendidly sung. The storm breaks and there is dramatic trio of the siblings with the disguised Gilda who walks willingly to her death for love of the worthless Duke. During the storm the realistic effects created a storm on the Mincio, where in Mantua is so wide that it looks more like long broad lake. Maddalena vanishes into the swirling water of the lake. Rigoletto meets his Nemesis when in the moonlit, post-storm night he discovers not the dead Duke in a sack but his own daughter. The curse has worked and the dark figure stands behind him as heart-broken, his last words are "E` morta! E` la maledzione!!!"

The opera worked again thanks to all involved. It was a cast of very fine singing actors. Among the lesser roles were the courtiers Borsa (tenor Angelo Muscat) and baritone Alberto Maria Munafo` as Marullo. Soprano Yvonne Galea was Giovanna, Gilda's companion, to whom she was more loyal than to her employer Rigoletto.

A touch I also liked was having a small ensemble of musicians playing courtly dance music on stage in the opera's opening scene. There was a number of delightful young ladies, very well-trained dancers with their narrative dances choreographed by Sarah Grech. It is a pity the court scene was not completed with a number of male partners for the ladies. It was expected of ideal Renaissance courtiers that all were to dance. In the scene were Rigoletto was duped in helping with Gilda's abduction, a ladder was mentioned but never seen.

There were more very positive elements which contributed to this production's success. The very well-trained chorus which in this operas is only for male voices. The 28-strong Astra Opera Chorus (hats off the Mariella Spiteri Cefai) was augmented by the 6-strong Coro Lirico Siciliano (led by Francesco Costa) and were a magnificent force.

Joseph Cauchi's scenography was very good as too was the light design (George Zammit, Juan Vella and Beam Lighting. The costumes were richly splendid for the ladies. Practically all the men wore black except the Duke, Rigoletto and Monterone. Wardeobe manager Miriam Attard, props and wardrobe manager George Camilleri, lead seamstress Mary Rose Nolan with George Farrugia made a formidable team in this department.

Verdi and his librettist Piave held everything together by means of the gorgeous, often uplifting music projected well in this reading by John Galea at the helm of the M.P.O.
I'll not easily forget this year's October operas in Gozo.

Author: Albert George Storace

Photo credit: JOE ATTARD