“Wanted: Topless women.” No, this wasn’t the latest “Jerry Springer” promo, this was Lyric Opera asking for shapely courtesans some weeks ago for its latest production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto, ” that operatic warhorse that has not been well-served at Lyric for some time. The work is so popular that even a mediocre cast and bland sets can fill seats and is done so often that it has become a festering ground for avant-garde directorial concepts that more often than not are bizarrely superimposed over Verdi’s intentions. Happily, this new Lyric Opera production is a “back to basics” enterprise that does a remarkable job of reminding us why “Rigoletto” remains the beloved work that it is. The title role of the hunchbacked jester is given genuine pathos by Spanish baritone Carlos Álvarez, who is vocally magnificent whether sniping at courtiers or comforting his locked-away daughter, Russian soprano and Lyric Center alumna Dina Kuznetsova, a coloratura tour de force in her memorable scenes. Tenor Frank Lopardo’s suave and carefree Duke of Mantua makes sure that all are humming “La donna è mobile” out the door, a phenomenon Verdi so accurately predicted that the famous aria was not given to the tenor until the final dress rehearsal with all sworn to secrecy so that gondoliers wouldn’t still his thunder before the premiere. The unit set is traditional and clever and the Lyric Opera Orchestra plays with true balance and beauty under Spanish conductor Jesús López Cobos. And those topless women? They are revealingly clothed in the style of the time but do admittedly help supply a feast for the eyes within an evening’s feast for the ears. (Dennis Polkow)
Through Feb. 17, Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive and Madison; (312)332-2244.