Opera Masterpiece Inspires Review

Alameda’s own Island City Opera is currently presenting five performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s finest operatic masterpiece Rigoletto.

The opera epitomizes the very zenith of what scholars call Verdi’s Middle Period: that brief span when Verdi exercised his greatest creative genius and was granted the broadest artistic freedom by his patronage and censors.

Rigoletto is easily one of the most accessible operas: it is appreciated by opera aficionados as well as entry level audiences. The opera is certain to have a ring of familiarity due to its three famous arias: “La Donna E Mobile,” “Questa o Quella” and “Caro Nome.” Of the three, “La Donna E Mobile” is undoubtedly the most intriguing and most contagious. Verdi knew he had created something special when he completed “La Donna E Mobile” and sought to protect it; to keep it under wraps until opening night.

Verdi only revealed the song to the cast and orchestra a few hours before the opera’s premiere in Venice; he forbade anyone in the company to sing, whistle or even think of the melody outside of the theater.

The morning after the premiere, Venetians were already singing his guarded song in the streets and canals: it was public domain before its second performance.

When performed at the Alameda Elk’s Lodge ballroom, audiences not au courant in Italian will have the benefit of reading the English supertitles. The story line is gratefully lifted from Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi S’Amuse; as Verdi apologetically excuses his trespass, “The subject is grand, immense, and there is a character that is one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of.”

The highly controversial subject was too ribald and scortatory for priggish Parisians; Hugo’s play was banned for nearly 20 years.

If “Banned in Paris” is not a tacit endorsement, what is?

The trajectory of the plot is reminiscent of Greek, specifically Theban, tragedy: the hero learns of a curse, the hero sets out to preclude the curse from coming to fruition, the curse comes to pass directly because of the hero’s failed intervention with the fates.

The opera is grandly supported by a magnificent orchestra of 20 of the region’s finest classical musicians, directed by Jonathan Khuner and Jason Sherbundy. The cast is led by baritone Jo Vincent Parks as Rigoletto, Alameda’s first lady of music, soprano Eileen Meredith as Gilda, and tenor Alex Boyer as the Duke of Mantua.

Rigoletto will be performed from Jan. 20 through 31 at The Elks Club at 2255 Santa Clara Ave.  Tickets to this superlative event are on sale online at www.islandcityopera.org and through the box office at 263-8060.