Better than… the guy outside the Bowl with a dog puppet doing a one-man a capella version of Handel's Hallelujah chorus.
Most American orchestras coast during their summer season with puffery such as symphonic arrangements of Pink Floyd, Broadway show tunes, or backing second-tier geezer rockers. Some of the repertoire may be cheesy, but audiences love it.
But the LA Philharmonic is not your average American orchestra. Sunday evening, Gustavo Dudamel led the LA Phil, the men of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and a fine roster of opera singers in a rousing concert performance of one of the nastiest operas of the 19th century — Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi.
Rigoletto is populated by disgusting creatures…
The Duke of Mantua is a womanizing asshole. His jester, Rigoletto, is a dickweed whose idea of humor is to diss guests at the Duke's ball by predicting his boss will have sex with their wives. Sparafucile is a cheap killer-for-hire, and Maddalena, his sister, assists him by waving her badonkadonk to lure his targets into their shit stain of a tavern.
The only decent person in this bunch is Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter, who is tragically in love with the Duke — a man whose theme song is literally, “La Donna e Mobile” (Women Are Fickle). Oh dear. This can't go well, can it?
Most productions of Rigoletto these days are ironically undermined by the title role. Coloraturas and brilliant tenors are plentiful for the parts of Gilda and the Duke, respectively, but it's rare to find a baritone who can imbue Rigoletto with the requisite depth, power, and persuasive acting skills. It's not fair to judge the latter in an unstaged performance, but I'd guess that Zeljko Lucic qualifies. You could hear the mockery, the anger, and the anguish in his voice, all supported by a rich, resonant, and sure tone.
Tenor David Lomeli has been heard often in L.A., and his strong, confident voice worked well for the part of the shallow but dashing Duke. Soprano Irina Lungu has a complex, dark tone, a little too deep-colored for my taste for the part of Gilda, but her musicality was wonderfully sympathetic to the role. Nancy Fabiola Herrera made a great Maddalena, a mezzo with a sensuous growl that could melt the pants off the most resistant male.
Does Gustavo Dudamel ever sleep? His ambition and enthusiasm are matched by his expertise at the podium. After this one-off event, he plunges into a week-long festival of North and South American music with a Hispanic bent at the Bowl, culminating in a first-time local collaboration with Placido Domingo.
Dudamel presided over Verdi's score with energy and authority. Those who have never sat in the back of Walt Disney Hall appreciated the giant Dude-O-Vision monitors that gave us a musician's-eye view of Dudamel's poetic baton technique and expressive gestures.
There was admirable playing by the Philharmonic throughout; the tight brass work in the first scene, and the gorgeous sonority of principal flutist Catherine Ransom Karoly deserve special praise.
Personal bias: Sitting outside with a cool breeze at the Bowl is so much nicer than enduring the furnace of my air-conditioner-less home that I would have gladly gone there to hear Choices and Flowers by Lil B.
Random notebook dump: It's OK for courtiers to kidnap someone they believe to be Rigoletto's mistress, but when they learn she's actually Rigoletto's daughter, all of a sudden it's a serious crime?
Overheard in the crowd: “I've never seen so many bad collagen lip jobs in one place before.”