Opéra de Montréal opens
39th Season with Rigoletto
Local mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule in the role of Maddalena
The Opéra de Montréal opens its 39th season with Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi, one of the world’s all-time opera favourites, and the composer’s first great masterpiece to perfectly blend music with dramatic action. The melodies, each more touching than the last, and the powerful orchestration underscore Verdi’s exceptional theatrical skills. Filial love, the curse, social inequalities and tensions… themes that so captivated the composer, are expressed with sublime eloquence.
With a cast that brings together outstanding Canadian singers and Opera world stars, in a classic work that is also timely, as this melodrama explores such hot topics as the abuse of power and a man’s complete control over a young woman’s fate, Rigoletto will bring the ultimate experience of Italian opera to Montrealers!
Filial love, the curse, social inequalities and tensions… themes that so captivated the composer, are expressed with sublime eloquence.
The story: A grieving father’s curse
Rigoletto is inspired by Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse. It tells the story of Rigoletto, a jester in the court of the Duke of Mantua, a sexual predator he must defend. At the same time, he desperately tries to protect his own daughter, Gilda, from the Duke, keeping her hidden away at home. Unfortunately, Rigoletto’s defence of the Duke, through the mocking and humiliation of Monterone, whose own daughter the Duke has seduced, earns the jester a curse from which he cannot escape.
“The cast confirms the excellence of our Canadian opera talent in Myriam Leblanc (Gilda) and James Westman (Rigoletto), both of whom are making their debuts in their respective roles. Also here for us to discover are wonderful tenor René Barbera (the Duke of Mantua) and conductor Carlo Montanaro, leading the Orchestre Métropolitain,” explains Michel Beaulac, Artistic Director of the Opéra de Montréal.
‘Recognized by critic for his “towering voice” and outstanding stage presence… James Westman is the perfect choice to play Rigoletto.’
Recognized by critics for his “towering voice” and outstanding stage presence (Kevin Wells, Bachtrack 2017, and Ed Tapper, BostonEdge Network 2017), Canadian baritone, pianist and localist James Westman is the perfect choice to play Rigoletto, this character praised by Verdi as “deformed and ridiculous on the outside, but passionate and full of love on the inside” (Letter to Marzari, December 14, 1850).
At his side, the Canadian soprano and former member of the Atelier Lyrique Myriam Leblanc plays his daughter Gilda. Admired for the “rare beauty” of her voice (Caroline Rodgers, La Presse 2016), her “finely tuned” vocals and her ability to express “various emotions” (Jeanne Hourez, Do you go? 2018), she will be able to reveal all the facets of this young girl stolen from her innocence.
‘… Myriam Leblanc… Admired for the “rare beauty” of her voice, her “finely tuned” vocals and her ability to “various emotions”…’
To complete this duo of high-caliber performers, one of today’s most exciting young artists, American tenor René Barbera, the first sole recipient of all three awards of the Operalia Competition in 2011, will play this unscrupulous libertine who is the Duke of Mantua.
The villainous roles of hired killer Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena are played by Canadian bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and Montreal mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule, returning to her hometown stage after several appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Members of the Atelier lyrique appearing in supporting roles alongside this exceptional cast are Max Van Wyck (Marullo), Sebastian Haboczki (Servant), Scott Brooks (Monterone), Rose Naggar-Tremblay (Giovanna), Rocco Rupolo (Borsa), Elizabeth Polese (Countess Ceprano), Brenden Friesen (Count Ceprano), and Andrea Núñez (Page).
The production is directed by Michael Cavanagh, well known in North America both for his brilliant stage direction and his career as an educator working with young artists. Internationally renowned Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro conducts the Metropolitan Orchestra and the Montreal Opera Choir. The scenography is by Robert Dahlstrom.
Local singer Carolyn Sproule joins cast
Carolyn Sproule is thrilled to be once again performing the role of Maddalena, as she is no stranger to her current role, having performed it with the Houston Opera, the Vancouver Opera (her Canadian debut), and the Canadian Opera of Toronto. “My experience brings a certain richness to the part”, she explains. “At the same time, as every production is different, this new experience will allow me to take certain liberties, bringing new things out in the character.”
Ms. Sproule discovered a love for singing at a very young age. “I was about four years old when I discovered the concept of musical theatre with The Sound of Music and thought that would be something fun to do.” At the age of thirteen she began formal singing lessons. “Once I heard Maria Callas there was no going back, I wanted to sing classical music. At the age of fourteen, I decided to enrol in an arts-oriented boarding school, the Interlochen Centre for the Arts, in Michigan. Then at sixteen, I moved to Walnut Hill School for the Arts, near Boston.”
Accepted at the Julliard School in New York, she completed a Bachelor in Music degree in 2010. She went on to earn a Masters in Music from Rice University (Houston) in 2012. She also participated in residencies at the Banff Centre, Aspen Opera Theatre, Merola Opera Program, Wolf Trap Opera, and the Houston Grand Opera Studio for two years.
‘… this new experience will allow me to take certain liberties, bringing new things out in the character.’
Highlights of past seasons include the role of Inez in Il Trovatore and the Sandman in Hänsel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera. She made her European debut to great acclaim singing Erika in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa at the Wexford Festival, and subsequently her Italian debut at Teatro Lirico di Cagliari as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera. In concert, she was the alto soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Minnesota Orchestra as well as the alto soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Aspen Music Festival.
This is her second collaboration with Opéra de Montréal, the first being the role of the Third Maid in Elektra in 2015. She looks forward to further performances with the Opéra as Flosshilde in Das Rheingold and Olga in Evgenij Onegin. Says Ms. Sproule, “It’s great to be performing in one’s home town, to be able to walk from home to rehearsals and performances.”
The work: From Triboulet to Rigoletto, a difficult path
In 1848-1849, a series of revolutions, referred to as the “Spring of the Peoples”, shook Europe. In Italy, these revolts had taken strong nationalistic colours, and aimed, among other things, at unifying the country and liberating the peninsula from Austrian domination. Although these revolts were quickly crushed and controlled, they were considered a fundamental step of the Risorgimento movement that led to the unification of Italy in 1861, during which the name of Verdi would be used a rallying cry.
It is not a coincidence that shortly after these revolutions, September 7, 1849, Verdi reveals for the first time his interest in the play of Victor Hugo Le roi s’amuse (The king has fun). Indeed, Hugo’s play, a critique of nobility and monarchy, and court debauchery, was considered highly subversive and was banned after a single performance.
Verdi, whose fame allowed him to choose his subjects, was fascinated by the play of Hugo and especially by the character of Triboulet (Rigoletto) that he considered “worthy of Shakespeare” (Letter to Piave, May 8, 1850). Since he had to compose an opera for the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, he commissioned his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, to “put Venice upside down to make censorship allow this subject” (8 May 1850), which was all a challenge, because after the experience of 1848-1849 the Austrian power was on guard, reinforcing censorship. Fortunately for us, Piave told Verdi that he had taken care of it, allowing them to start the work.
‘Verdi, whose fame allowed him to choose his subjects, was fascinated by the play of Hugo and especially by the character of Triboulet (Rigoletto) that he considered “worthy of Shakespeare’
When, in November 1850, he learned that the play had been banned, Verdi refused all compromises required of him: he could not remove the curse, crucial to the drama, nor could he make the duke a harmless character. Finally, after he had agreed to transpose the character of the king into that of the Duke of Mantua, and having changed the names of the other characters, he arrived at the compromise that is the opera as we know it today. Despite all these twists and turns, Rigoletto has had a tremendous success since its inception, having been represented in 250 opera houses around the world in the ten years since its creation.
Rigoletto‘s music reflects Verdi’s passion for his subject. In this work, considered by the musicologists (with Il trovatore and La traviata) as the beginning of a new compositional period for Verdi, the latter refines the musical characterization of the characters and breaks many conventions of Italian opera for dramatic purposes : the action can interrupt a duet (as is the case for the duo Rigoletto and Gilda, where Rigoletto stops to investigate a sound), or an air can take a dramatic function (such as La donna è mobile, which serves to reveal to Rigoletto that it is not the duke who is in the bag he is carrying).
The energy of the score and its sustained rhythm leads the listener to the inexorable fulfillment of the curse of Monterone, in this opera that Verdi called, in 1855, “his best” (Letter to Cesare De Sanctis, January 20, 1855). The continued success of this opera on the world stage shows that he was right.
Opéra de Montréal presents Rigoletto
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
September 15, 18, 20 and 22 at 7:30 pm
The opera is performed in its original language with bilingual surtitles projected above the stage.
Opéra de Montréal box office: 514-985-2258 • 1 877 385-2222
Place des Arts box office: 514-842-2112 • 1 866 842-2112
Images: courtesy Opéra de Montréal
L’Opéra de Montréal, founded in 1980 and based in Montreal, is the largest francophone opera company in North America. Each season, close to 50,000 spectators make their way through the company’s doors. Under the direction of General Director Patrick Corrigan and Artistic Director Michel Beaulac, the Opéra is a key player in the city’s economic, cultural, and social development as, each season, it maintains working relationships with over 360 local businesses, and hires no less than 800 artists and craftspeople. Close to 80% of the artists appearing at the company are Canadian.