Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Librettist: Francesco Maria Piave
Director: Femi Elufowoju Jr
Conductor: Garry Walker
Rigoletto is one of the top ten most frequently performed operas in the World. Based on a play by Victor Hugo, Rigoletto, tells the story of a disabled Jester who fiercely protects the innocence of his daughter from a hedonistic Duke and his retinue of philandering aristocrats.
In this stunning modern-day production by Opera North, Rigoletto, one of Verdi’s most popular operas is powerfully reimagined. In the wake of the Me-Too movement, this production takes on a deep resonance highlighting the exploitation of the vulnerable, especially young women, at the hands of the elite and super-rich. Rarely in this reviewer’s experience has a production of a classical opera drawn so many contemporary parallels as this one. That it does so, is due to the British/Nigerian, Director and Theatre Practitioner, Femi Elufowoju Jr’s inspired and masterly retelling.
Elufowoju dispenses with Rigoletto’s physical handicap, (normally the role is played as a hunchback) and replaces it with a deep-rooted psychological disorder. Rigoletto is shown to be experiencing the paranoia of a Black man living in a predominantly white world. As with other key roles in the production, Rigoletto, his daughter Gilda, and the elderly statesman Monterone are sung by artists of colour. At the heart of the opera is a curse placed by Monterone on the Duke for seducing his daughter and Rigoletto for mocking him in front of the court. The impact of the curse is heightened by Rigoletto and his daughter’s profound awareness of its cultural significance and mystical power which in this revelatory interpretation makes the opera’s tragic ending even more dramatic and devastating.
For this production Opera North has assembled an exciting and first-rate cast who demonstrate great musicality, virtuosity, and superb characterisation. Eric Green as Rigoletto is spellbinding, given freedom to portray Rigoletto in a new and dynamic way he imbues his character with dignity and a fierce resolve to obtain revenge for the abduction and sexual assault of his daughter. This is a performer with star quality, who will surely go on to delight in other leading dramatic roles. Jasmine Habersham as Gilda gives a mesmerising and deeply touching performance. Her vulnerability reaches out directly from the stage and is truly heart breaking. Green and Habersham’s standout duets are captivating, lyrically satisfying and profoundly moving. Although maybe not as assured as the other principals, Roman Arndt delivers the famous Act 3 opening Aria, “La donna è mobile,” with swagger and panache. Callum Thorpe as Sparafucile, the Duke’s assassin is excellent, he invests the role with a suitably chilling mix of brooding menace and brutish thuggery.
Rae Smith’s neon-clad set is wonderfully versatile managing to convey the opulence of the Duke’s court and the blood-drenched back streets of the criminal underworld. As ever the Opera North Orchestra and chorus under the confident and measured direction of conductor Garry Walker are in brilliant and impressive form. Elufowoju’s debut production is a major triumph which one hopes will stay in Opera North’s repertoire for many years to come.
It is extremely fitting that this production which seeks to highlight injustice and inequality is preceded by the playing of the Ukrainian national anthem in support of the artists and people of Ukraine. For the remainder of Opera North’s winter season, the Ukrainian national anthem will be played before every performance.
Rigoletto is on tour until 1 April 2022