Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Director: Ellen Kent
Reviewer: Ray Taylor
It’s a sobering thought to learn that this considered masterpiece by Verdi was originally in danger of being banned and not performed at all because of its depiction of aristocratic immorality, sexual depravity and murder. It did in fact, receive its first performance on 11 March 1851 at La Fenice, Venice and has been part of the operatic repertoire ever since.
The plot of Rigoletto, which at first glance appears rather convoluted like a Shakespeare comedy, is in fact quite simplistic and revolves around the relationship between Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda. Rigoletto is employed by the Duke of Mantua as his court jester and is often ridiculed by the courtiers and cruelly misused. The Duke himself is a handsome, rakish philanderer with an eye for the ladies – any lady. The action is set in motion when the Duke takes a fancy to Gilda who responds with love, not realising just how fickle he is. Even when the Duke’s failings and lies are indisputably proved to Gilda by her father, she still cannot bring herself to abandon him and makes the ultimate sacrifice for him with her life to save him from being murdered. Rigoletto’s attempts to prevent the love affair thus lead to tragedy.
This is a visually stunning production traditionally staged with lavish sets and opulent costumes. The decadence of Renaissance Italy is splendidly rendered by the magnificent surroundings exposing the licentious and immoral behaviour of the court. This is accentuated by some nudity on stage which is actually portrayed quite artistically but may be offensive to some people. Producer Ellen Kent, who has been in the business of treating audiences to the opera repertoire for 26 years, is well known for featuring live animals in her productions and here we are treated to two royal greyhounds and a magnificent golden eagle.
Any opera, of course, is ultimately judged by the quality of the singing and here all the principal soloists deliver consistently brilliant performances. Baritone Iurie Gisca in the title role is memorable as the father just trying to do the right thing by his daughter and displays a full range of emotions; Spanish tenor Giorgio Meladze has a beautiful timbre to his voice and does not disappoint in the famous La donna e mobile in the third act; and Ukrainian soprano Alyona Kistenyova hits all the right notes even from a reclining position in her final scene. Of the minor roles, bass Vadym Chernihovskiy deserves mention as the sinister assassin Sparafucile. For this reviewer, what occasionally detracts from the award of an overall five-star production, is that the quality of the acting does not always match the superb singing. This is always a fine balance to achieve in opera where the singing always comes first. The whole company is admirably served by a full live orchestra under the baton of Vasyl Vasylenko.
Touring Nationwide | Image: Contributed