Remember, I am the Opera Novice, and even after several years of attending Opera SJ I still have no technical knowledge, but guess what? I still enjoy the heck out of the shows. And that is because you don’t have to be an opera aficionado to love the experience. My opera reviews are for the general public, with the hope that you will all give it a try one day and discover a new love as I have.
Since this is the beginning of the season, let’s get back to the basics. The first thing you have to do is get out your fancypants clothes and jewelry, because this is your excuse to pretend to be royalty. Then you make reservations at your favorite downtown restaurant. If you are going on Opening Night, reservations are very important, as everything is booked solid anywhere near the California Theatre. Then you just relax, have a great time, and look forward to buying a freshly baked cookie during intermission.
Rigoletto is a great show for a beginner, with over the top tragedy, a tortured clown, vengeance upon vengeance and, of course, a deflowered virgin. There is also at least one very familiar song. It is great to have familiar music when you’re a beginner; it makes you feel more comfortable, and it’s always funny to realize a tune you know from childhood is actually from a famous opera. As my guest said, “I had no idea those were the words to that tune!!” And then we sang it all the way back to the parking garage.
Rigoletto is sung in Italian, but there is a screen above the stage that shows the words in English, so you do not miss a thing. The set design for the show was not as grand as I’ve seen, but worked well in taking the audience from Rigoletto’s residence, to the outside streets, to a home in the slums where a bit of coin can buy you any favor you wish.
The orchestra was perfection as always; I really feel I do them a disservice by not having grander words for their hard work, but they are amazing. The performers were also astounding as usual, with special mention for all the hard work of Matthew Hanscom who plays Rigoletto and must sing almost constantly through all three acts. But very special mention goes to a new resident: Isabella Ivy makes her company debut as Gilda and we have a winner here. When Isabella is on stage, all eyes are on her, and though there are several songs where many people are singing different parts, you will still watch and listen only to Isabella. She has the voice, she has the power, and she has the talent. She also sings while lying down at one point, something that even an opera novice can see must be an incredible feat. I am absolutely delighted to see that Opera SJ has found such great new talent and look forward to her performances the rest of the season.
When looking to buy tickets for a show, remember that the California Theatre is very well designed, and there is no need to pay a lot of money for a front row seat. Seats in the balcony are fantastic with a great view of the stage. Attending Opera SJ gives you the opportunity to pretend to be super fancypants, but you can still do so on a budget.
Last, but never least, remember that opera is not a stuffy or boring torture to endure. At its best there is a really entertaining story, over the top is even better, and Rigoletto fits the bill for a beginner. Never be afraid to hate all the men, if all the men are playing villains (they often are). Never be afraid to laugh quietly if the dying heroine is taking a few minutes too long to die – or even shed a tear if it’s a truly tragic show. Never believe that you aren’t meant to think and feel all these things. What you are meant to do is enjoy yourself.
I have seen theater shows where the last line of the play absolutely destroys the entire experience for me. For Rigoletto, as the clown wails one final lament I thought “Oh please oh please let this be the last line of the show!!!” and the curtain went down and I clapped my hands and cackled with joy as the audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation. I absolutely loved this show. Can you tell?