‘Rigoletto’ at Minnesota Opera: Who’s Laughing Now?

Olafur Sigurdarson as Rigoletto in Minnesota Opera new production of “Rigoletto” // Photo by Cory Weaver

A loathsome politician uses his power to prey on women, indiscriminately hopping from one dalliance to the next, abetted by the very people he’s likely to hurt.

But enough about current events. The Minnesota Opera has a good show going on right now.

Their penultimate main stage performance of the season is Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” imagined by director Austin Regan in an Orwellian state that fits this 19th century opera to a T. The Duke of Mantua (Joshua Dennis) lusts after Gilda (Marie-Eve Munger), unaware that she’s the daughter of his disfigured court jester, Rigoletto, played with well-earned confidence by Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson.

Joshua Dennis as the Duke in Minnesota Opera new production of “Rigoletto” // Photo by Cory Weaver

Rigoletto, usually shown as a hunchback, is presented in a leg brace. Rather than a bumbling clown, Siguardarson’s Rigoletto strikes a nuanced and melancholy figure—a shrewd opportunist who has to coolly navigate an oppressive regime to have his revenge when the Duke’s latest affair hits close to home.

Scenic designer Julia Noulin-Merat flanks the stage with oversized Shepard Fairey-like portraits of the Duke, a wall of security cameras, and just enough totalitarian mise-en-scène to remind us of the power dynamic, but not stifle the machinations of the characters.

Marie-Eve Munger as Gilda in Minnesota Opera new production of “Rigoletto” // Photo by Cory Weaver

In a strange dissonance, Dennis plays the Duke with effortless charm, making his sexual criminality seem more like impish fancy. It was truly difficult to watch him sing the buoyant “La donna e mobile” and remember exactly what deviance he’s planning.

But Sigurdarson ably reminds us of the stakes, especially through his character’s ups and downs in the tragic and ironic third act. The costuming of the chorus comes into powerful effect here—the once-fancy courtiers dissolve into a mass of shrouded bodies, an anonymous, pernicious threat to anyone (like Rigoletto and Gilda) who dares challenge the status quo.

The show is powerful and intimate, a timely reminder about the dangers of groupthink, and a deft example of the versatility of this Verdi masterwork.

Tickets are still available for the remaining performances, especially for those next Tuesday and Thursday (March 27 and 29).

Olafur Sigurdarson as Rigoletto and Matt Boehler as Sparafucile in Minnesota Opera new production of “Rigoletto” // Photo by Cory Weaver

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.