It's been nearly six years since Wichita Grand Opera presented Verdi's melodramatic opera "Rigoletto" — a paucity of performances when considering the piece was revived more than 250 times in the 10 years after its premiere in 1851.
Of Verdi's many operatic masterpieces, only "La Traviata" and "Aida" are more popular today.
"Rigoletto" will return to Wichita Grand Opera on Friday for one performance in Mary Jane Teall Theater. The opera is produced by Baltimore-based World Classical Performing Arts Society and its touring company Teatro Lirico D'Europa in conjunction with WGO.
It's easy to understand why modern audiences remain partial to "Rigoletto." The story is full of knife-edge thrills. Its music is jaunty, a parade full of memorable tunes, including one of the most famous arias of all, the tenor's drinking song "La donna e mobile."
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"I love the music," said Parvan Bakardiev, general director of Wichita Grand Opera. "You don't have to read the supertitles to know what is going on. The music is genius because Verdi paints the picture even without the words."
And what a picture it is. Rigoletto is a court jester, a hunchback who mocks those whose daughters have been ravaged by the licentious Duke. When the tables are turned and his own daughter, Gilda, is abducted and seduced, Rigoletto vows revenge. After Rigoletto strikes a deal with an assassin, the Duke is lured to an inn — here comes the famous drinking song. But Gilda, in love with the Duke, sacrifices herself under the assassin's knife — which Rigoletto discovers to his horror in the opera's closing bars.
"There's not a dull moment," Bakardiev said. "The plot is like a whodunit, it has so many twists and turns. This opera I can see 10 times and never get bored, because it goes from one mood to another just like the four seasons."
"Rigoletto" also convolutes the set conventions of opera — a big reason for its success in the 1850s. For instance, it is usually a tenor singer who takes the part of the hero and a lower-sounding baritone who plays the villain.
But in "Rigoletto" these roles are reversed — the tenor is the bad guy, the libertine Duke, and the baritone is the tragic hero, Rigoletto, who beneath his callous jests is a loving, protective father.
Verdi's genius in "Rigoletto" was to create thoughtful, multifaceted characters, not the singular "types" who often inhabit the opera stage. He adjusted traditional opera song-forms to better portray these depths. Interestingly, Rigoletto has no real arias, but the arrogant Duke has several delicious solo numbers.
"The story is very contemporary," Bakardiev said, "because you have the development of the characters — betrayal, love, changes in their feelings, nuances in their allegiances, political intrigues, revenge. There's not a dull moment, dramatically as well as musically."
Besides the famous "La donna e mobile" in the last act, another hit is the Duke's lively "Questa o quella" in the opening scene. Gilda's popular "Caro nome" is a tender reflection on innocent love.
Starring in "Rigoletto" will be Lithuanian baritone Vytautas Juozapaitis as Rigoletto; Mexican tenor Mauricio Trejo as the Duke; Bulgarian soprano Snejana Dramcheva as Gilda; Russian bass Mikhail Kolelishvili as the assassin Sparafucile; and Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Viara Zhelezova as the saucy Maddalena.
Backing the international cast will be the Sofia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Krassimir Topolov, conductor.
If you go
What: Verdi's opera, presented by Wichita Grand Opera
Where: Century II's Mary Jane Teall Theater, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. Friday
How much: Tickets are $35, $58 and $85, discounts available. For more information, visit www.selectaseat.com or call 316-262-8054.