DramaOperaReviewSouth East

Rigoletto – Norwich Theatre Royal

Opera: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: Christiane Lutz

Reviewer: Lu Greer

Verdi’s own favourite opera, brought to Norwich by Glyndebourne, tells the story of the duplicitous Duke who has money, power, and any woman he turns his gaze on, and his hunchbacked jester Rigoletto who happens to have a beautiful and unattainable daughter. The opera follows the jester as he tries to take revenge on the Duke for seducing his daughter, but the plot quickly takes darker and darker turns as everything around Rigoletto begins to unravel.

This is a production that by necessity must be considered in two halves; the performances and the directorial choices. The performances in this production, throughout the entire ensemble, are of consistently high quality. Nikoloz Lagvilava, the Georgian baritone, makes his debut for Glyndebourne in this production with a powerful performance, although perhaps lacking in some depth given the character’s spiralling narrative. Alongside him, tenor Matteo Lippi makes his return to the company as he Duke giving the character the swagger and bravado needed. Bringing a depth of emotion to their character which easily outshines all others though, is Vuva Mpofu as Gilda whose discovery of the Duke’s true character is genuinely moving.

The issue with this production, which in part detracts from the performances given, is the directorial choices (Christiane Lutz) in that it bears little resemblance to this original plot; being set in 1920s Hollywood with Rigoletto as Charlie Chaplin and introducing confusing doppelgangers, baby-snatching, a slow-motion suicide, and inexplicable incest. Instead of a few alterations or modernisations, as might be expected in a production, this complete overhaul without an apparent link between the new setting and the original generally distracts from the tragedy of the story. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the Duke drives a classic car on stage, resulting in a painfully slow three-point turn which left the audience sat in awkward silence trying to determine whether the car hitting the scenery was intended to be humorous. The largest of these changes to the narrative, though, is in the incest storyline which feels shoehorned in; Gilda, who is Rigoletto’s daughter in the original story, becomes his adopted child fathered by the Duke. A seventeen-year time jump, suggested by neither Verdi nor Hugo, brings her into an unwittingly incestuous relationship which is undermined more than once by lines from the original no longer quite fitting the on-stage narrative.

Overall, there are some strong performances in this production and a stirring score performed as highly as is always expected of Glyndebourne, but on the whole they are overshadowed by a series of strange and irrelevant directorial choices which have changed the classic story into something almost unrecognisable, and on the way has lost the emotion in the tragedy of the narrative.

Runs until 7 December 2019 | Image: Richard Hubert Smith

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Almost unrecognisable story

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