Friday, March 13, 2009

(Not Just) Another Night at the Opera

Added March 16th, thanks to Ling Chan, Assistant to Managing Director for VOA:
The manga is drawn by artist Fiona Meng. Rigoletto pictures should be credited to photographer Tim Matheson and the pictures for the mosaic credited to Ling Chan.
Despite that badge over in the right column calling for "Blogging Without Obligation," my personality is such that despite being overwhelmed with marking and reading and attending cultural events and needing to get the car maintenance done and not having scheduled my six-month-overdue Pap test and having a desktop cluttered beyond any possibility of efficiency and meaning to call my mom to see how she's doing and . . . . well, you get the idea . . . anyway, despite a to-do list I'm not checking off as fast as I'm adding to, I continue to feel obliged to blog -- the obligation, I think, is as much to myself as to my readers, and is an obligation based, by now, on habit.

All of which is to say that for the next thirty minutes or so, I'm going to ignore the pile of marking and finally say something about Rigoletto.

First, I should say that I'm so glad Pater and I decided a couple of years ago to commit to buying season tickets for the Vancouver Opera Association. Otherwise, given our busy worklives in different cities, we tend to miss out on concerts and other events -- despite saying we should go to something, we don't get 'round to buying tickets 'til too late, and by then, they're either sold out or we decide we're too tired. Last weekend, for example, with the emotional energy invested in saying good-bye to our old dog, we probably wouldn't have bothered if we hadn't already bought the tickets (as it was, we were tempted to give them away, but Pater convinced me that a distraction was just what we needed).
With the season tickets, we write the four Saturdays into the calendar in September and build our schedules around those dates. The tickets are far from cheap (opera is expensive to produce -- all the orchestra musicians, never mind the singers; then there's the sumptuous sets and costumes; lighting and special effects people, etc), but we really feel we get our money's worth, not just from what's on stage, but also from the people-watching, the ambiance of the evening, especially since we chose opening night tickets and folks are really stepping up their dress! We've developed a date routine around these evenings, tending to eat a late lunch, then have a "siesta" before heading to the theatre (we walk there, about 35 minutes) for the 7:30 curtain. When the show's over, we've been stopping in at Bacchus for a drink, sharing a thin-crust pizza as we lounge in the sexy room, listening to jazz piano, and indulging in even more people-watching.

Last Saturday, as we drank our Guinness, we talked about how great this production of Rigoletto was. At least, not having seen other productions, we were partly responding to the opera itself -- Hugo/Piave's tragic story, Verdi's gorgeous, memorable music, so recognisable -- but we were also struck by the stark strength of the set with its emphasis on a theme of being caged by life's circumstances (as well, obviously, as by gender). Before the show began, seeing the huge metal structure filling the stage, I'll admit I was a bit apprehensive that this industrial-modern starkness might lack the sumptuousness I love in a set, however well it captured the opera's spirit. I need not have worried -- the court scenes features magical lighting, as suggested by the photo below (taken from the VOA's blog).

As well, it was festooned with all sorts of hanging devices which accommodated acrobatic marvels -- gym rings, ladders, trapezes -- which marvels were matched on the ground by a stunningly-garbed acrobat on stilts: the flowing, tangerine costume enveloped the actor's legs for an astonishing visual impact -- 10-12 feet of brilliant colour moving flamboyantly through the whites and blacks of the courtiers' costumes. As well, another stuntman wove a trick bike through the moving, thronging, sexily-clad court. And when I say sexily-clad, I should probably mention that there was some sexily-UNclad as well -- in an upper tier within the structure were beautiful young female dancers, at least one of whom was topless. To give you an idea of how sexy these costumes could be, here's a set of photos depicting backstage preparations, also from the VOA blog.What was also surprising about the set was how well the scaffolding around it and the supporting metal stilts below it suggested the setting for the opera's more nefarious actions -- the dark alleyways of a city where hit men might offer their services or courtiers kidnap young women for the duke's pleasure were credibly found in its nooks and crannies.

While we haven't seen other productions of this opera, we were easily convinced that these performances were strong, top-tier even. These photographs (VOA website, again) suggest the strength that baritone Donnie Ray Albert brings to the role of Rigoletto -- his physical presence was as commanding as his voice (whereas the Duke's role, while well sung and competently interpreted, wasn't as compelling). And Elise Gutierrez, who sang the role of Gilda -- well, we might be fairly new to opera, but she is clearly a rising star -- stunning, mesmerizing, captivating soprano, just beautiful! Again, her physical beauty enhanced the role and convincingly portrayed Gilda's innocent purity and ability to sacrifice herself for love.

I so wish I could find better photos of the costumes for this production -- the courtiers' black and white outfits were so perfect with a variety of graphic pattern that made the most of the light and dark contrast -- dazzling!

VOA is taking several progressive approaches in trying to build its audience, particularly trying to draw in another generation through Facebook, Manga, and blogging. Not only has it begun its own blog, but it has also invited several Vancouver bloggers to participate in some rehearsal and backstage events and, interestingly, in blogging live from the theatre lobby before the show and during intermission. If you're interested check out some of these bloggers to see what they thought of Saturday's show. And if you live within a reasonable distance from Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre, you could still get to see a performance of this richly entertaining production -- two more shows, on March 14th and 17th.
This weekend will be a much quieter one -- we're staying on the island and enjoying each other's company. Besides catching up on my marking, there'll be catching up on a stack of Cds that need listening to, and catching up on a few bottles of wine, a dish of braised lamb shanks, maybe a run or two, some staring out at the water. . . . What about you?


  1. What a stunning production!

    To reminisce about our month in India 2 years ago I'm having my traveling friend and some other friends over for an Indian dinner party. So this morning I found a perfect mesh long-sleeved top for the party,a paisley and bit of anminal print on an orange ground.

  2. I have just discovered your blog, I'm a Vancouverite and was also in Paris last May. Your descriptions of the opera are wonderful.

  3. A busy weekend for us - Saturday morning the big shop, including items for my husband's 50th birthday party next weekend. In the afternoon all the menfolk will go to Scouts while I tidy up and start dinner. We have invited over a teacher who is helping us to coordinate the Canada booth for the school's upcoming charity International Festival - we'll be making and selling pancakes and maple syrup. It's been a hard slog getting volunteers and donations of supplies; we may have to suppliment with pancake syrup (shh!). Sunday we want to rearrange the furniture in our kitchen/living room to make room for the party next weekend, then it will be Mass in the afternoon. Not the most restful weekend! Enjoy yours! Patricia

  4. Duchesse: Oooh, I hope you show us your new find -- it sounds perfect, and so does an Indian-themed dinner party with good female friends. I'm going to imagine myself there!
    Rosemary: So glad you found me -- welcome! I had a quick peek at your blog, and I see we have much in common -- I'll visit more when I have some time.
    Patricia: Whew! I'm tired just reading your plans -- you'll be waiting for all your boys to head out again Monday morning so that you have a chance to relax. It does sound as if you'll be enjoying the company of family and friends amonst all that busy-ness, though -- take care.

  5. Rigoletto is my favorite!!!! I wish I could see this production. I love the opera so much.

  6. Thank you so much for such a brilliant blog on Rigoletto. We are so very happy that you and your husband enjoyed it! The response to Rigoletto has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive.

    Just fyi -

    The manga is drawn by artist Fiona Meng. Rigoletto pictures should be credited to photographer Tim Matheson and the pictures for the mosaic credited to Ling Chan.

    Thanks again for coming to Rigoletto! We look forward to seeing you at the opera next time.

    Ling Chan
    Assistant to Managing Director
    Vancouver Opera

  7. Karen: It's great entertainment, isn't it!
    Ling: Thanks for visiting and for helping me out with credits. I'll change the post to reflect that info right now. See you at Salome!

  8. Do make sure to come say hi when you're at Salome. If you're interested in blogging for our future operas, please feel free to contact me at the office. I would be happy to meet with you.



  9. I am so very jealous of your season tickets to the Vancouver opera! One day, when I am no longer a lowly grad student, but an actual professor, I hope to indulge in season tickets to the opera of my location!

    I just saw this post and loved it, I saw a production of Rigoletto in Bucharest, Romania two years ago and it was one of my favorite performances! This post brought back wonderful memories. S.

  10. S. chic: The tickets are a wonderful indulgence -- I do notice, though, that VOA offers some special deals in an effort to get a younger crowd in, and perhaps your local opera does the same thing. Ours just had a 2for1 deal for its Facebook fans -- brilliant marketing, I thought!
    Was the opera house in Bucharest as spectacular as the Rigoletto? Another commenter here, Patricia, recently visited the Budapest opera house, and it sounds amazing.

  11. Oh what a marvelous post about the opera. It sounds like such a fabulous producction!

    Having the season tickets is wonderful, isn't it? I just committed to not subscribing to our symphony subscription this year because we have missed so much the last two years and I don't see any improvement in the future. But the subscription was great because it encouraged us to go out when we otherwise might not have, and I worry about that in the future.. that we won't go, and I miss it already. Yet I understand the rational reasons, and the trip into NY is still too much for my DH.

    Someday again, perhaps

  12. Mardel: Yes, the season tickets are great, but I absolutely understand why you'd have to decide to let them go for a year or two -- otherwise, they'd just be nagging at you or making you feel regret about unavoidable realities. I'll wish upon a star or two that you have many seasons of season tickets in your future.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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