photos courtesy of Michael Cooper

RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi, based on the play Le Roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo
Richard Bradshaw/David Lawton/George Manahan
Ellis/Dolter/Julian, Shin/Saffer/Comeaux, Lopez-Yanez/Bernardini, Doss, Stilwell
G. Tsypin (scenery), M. Pakledinaz (clothes), J. Ingalls (lighting)

“The Canadian Opera Company launched its season with a brilliant new production of Rigoletto, innovatively designed as a series of alienating, moveable walls by George Tsypin and lit by James Ingalls to reflect the harshness of this world. The director Nicholas Muni gave us a Rigoletto confined to a (red, hi-tech) wheelchair, desperate in his piety and impotent in his fury, skittering in and out of the among the stiff, black-robed El Greco-ish courtiers, helplessly wheeled about by the conspirators, falling out of his chair onto the staircase to console his daughter.”

Peter Dyson, London OPERA (January, 1993)

“…a re-thought Rigoletto, the COC’s strongest Verdi production in years.”
David Lasker, The Globe and Mail (September, 1992)

(comparative review with Jonathon Miller’s production a ENO and Tito Capobianco’s production at New York City Opera)
“The Canadian Opera Company opened its season with a new Nicholas Muni production as innovative in its own way as either of these controversial predecessors. Not only is this the most radically re-thought Rigoletto the company has ever given us, it is one of the most imaginatively designed and sophisticatedly lit productions it has visited upon any opera in the standard repertory. Before the orchestral introduction was even over, Muni had raised the curtain on a third of the stage to reveal a bizarre vision of Verdi’s hunchbacked jester, a twisted figure in flaming red, bent over his rosary beads in a matching red swivel chair. A jeering mob soon materialized behind him and the lights came up beside him in the two thirds of the stage devoted to the Duke’s court, posed in stiff formation and costumed in the neighborhood of black, the better to contrast with the sardonic scarlet figure, wheeling his chair among them with his one functioning leg. Search as you will in Piave’s libretto, you won’t find a number of similar incidents that followed, from Maddalena’s turning up in the first act to fondle Rigoletto as her assassin brother Sparafucile bargains with him, to the murder of Monterone in the second act and Maddalena’s stabbing of Gilda in the fourth. But in these and other instances of directorial license, Muni hasn’t so much violated the text as fleshed out its implications.”
William Littler, The Toronto Star (September, 1992)

“Verdi’s tragedy of unfulfilled revenge takes on a darker hue than usual in Nicholas Muni’s production, which emphasizes an amoral and violent universe where the greatest malefactor remains unpunished…Muni’s detailed and strongly conceived production, George Tsypin’s towering and diseased-looking sets and James F. Ingall’s intentionally harsh and lurid lighting make a powerful contribution.”
John Kaplan, Toronto NOW (September, 1992)

“Under the direction of Nicholas Muni, it is an evening that is musically and dramatically memorable, highlighted by a sensuality that is a perfect showcase for the innocence and vocal purity of Young Ok Shin in her COC debut. The Dali-esque landscape of monolithic set pieces serves to heighten the nightmare quality of Rigoletto’s descent into a morass of despair. Enhanced at every turn by the lighting of James Ingalls, Tsypin’s massive, mouldering triangles and their shadows serve to underscore the smallness of humankind in the face of fate.”
John Colbourn, The Toronto Sun (September, 1992)

“It’s not a criticism of the singers that they are not mentioned in the early part of this review. But what makes this production of the thrice-familiar Rigoletto stand out above others is the combination of extraordinary sets by George Tsypin, dramatic lighting by James Ingalls, and direction by Nicholas Muni, which adds some very daring touches. Rather than using realistic or even stylized sets, Tsypin’s imaginative conception incorporates many large basic rectangular and triangular wall panels with mildly textured surfaces, which starkly define both exterior and interior walls, and markedly undersized doorways. The frequent presence of large two-dimensional military horse-and-rider statues and the ominous, overhanging green and black skyscapes, plus a lot of dramatic side and back lighting, all combine to give the sets an unearthly, surreal look somewhat like the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. And through this spare but eerily effective environment rolls the tortured, hunchbacked jester Rigoletto. Rolls? Yes, Rigoletto’s deformity and his difficulty in getting around are pointed up not by having him limp around but by confining him to a bizarre red chair, which he propels with his left leg. The main chemistry in this Rigoletto is the Duke’s ceaseless lechery and director Muni makes sure this is never far from the surface. In this quite extraordinary setting, baritone Brent Ellis portrays the title role with singular-minded obsession to even the score with the Duke.”
Herman Trotter, The Buffalo News (September, 1992)

“Tulsa, Oklahoma can claim one of the best regional opera companies in the United States. Nicholas Muni contributed a provocative staging…it struck me as a gripping conception with the eponymous jester confined to a grotesque red wheelchair. This was a more complex, human Rigoletto…”
Scott Cantrell, Kansas City Star (March, 1993)

“As conceived by director Nicholas Muni and performed by an extraordinary cast, “Rigoletto” is a stunning show; as dark and troubling as an all-too-vivid nightmare.”
James D Watts, Tulsa World ( March, 1993)

Nicholas Muni’s Rigoletto is the best production Edmonton Opera has ever given us. Muni’s name comes first because it’s his conception that is so brilliant, and, together with George Tsypin’s sets, strips this beloved opera to its basics and reveals its true nature as a film noir nightmare. You may have heard the court jester is in a wheelchair, which sounds like a gimmick. But it vividly establishes the man’s physical helplessness, and in a tiny scene during the overture, a crowd is shown laughing derisively at him. Before the first scene then, Muni shows us what Rigoletto’s life has been, and why he’s bitter and cruel. The wheel chair and every other device Muni uses is to highlight the essential elements that fuel the story, and reveal the characters as seldom before. It’s a very stylized version, which creates the psychological world of these people rather than some banal operatic “reality”. This isn’t just the best opera of the year—it’s the best theater.
John Charles, The Edmonton Sun (May, 1994)

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