Opera: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
Director: James Macdonald
Revival director: Caroline Chaney
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Set in the White House during the Kennedy era, James Macdonald’s revival of Verdi’s Rigoletto was first staged by Welsh National Opera seventeen years ago. There have been a few adjustments since, and, given our present political state, the production keeps pace with modern times. However, given that it is set in the White House in the Kennedy era, there is a sense of Deja Vue about it, while at times the original dialogue does not sit easily within the revival production.
The tragic story of the licentious Duke, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto and the latter’s beautiful daughter Gilda lusted after by the amoral Duke is given a mega tweak. Men in suits replace courtiers and, despite some subtle alterations, the skulduggery afoot still careers inevitably towards a tragic ending. The everlasting beauty of Verdi’s music and the wonderful libretto, plus the expertise of the performers, ensure that this revival – unlike some – merits high praise and gives it stand alone value.
The singing is superb, with excellent performances from all three of the main protagonists, with Spanish soprano Marina Monzó in the role of Gilda outstanding at this performance; the purity of her voice in her solo aria Caro nome in Act I is a moment to cherish. Monzó brings a freshness to her interpretation that reflects inspirational casting, and her understanding of the role, as Gilda’s innocent existence is torn to shreds.
Her duets with Rigoletto are simpatico performances, both from Monzó and Mark S Doss in the title role. Doss’s sonorous baritone has depth as well as richness, giving resonance to his singing while his Rigoletto is a masterly combination of cunning manipulation and nastiness in the first half, and tragic desperation in the second.
Of an equally high standard is the singing of Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim as the man of wealth and position who sinks to any means, no matter how low, in his pursuit of women. This young tenor has much to offer and does not disappoint; his singing of the well-known aria La Donna é mobile in Act IV is up there with the best. James Platt and Emma Carrington, in the lesser but nevertheless important roles of the mercenary killer Sparafucile and the drug-taking tart Maddelana are both excellent.
While the production provides ample scope for WNO’s brilliant chorus which is so much a feature of this company the stage can seem overcrowded at times in Act I. The action behind glass is distracting; it could be worth considering a return to setting the ball on stage, thus incorporating the action and dialogue.
As the plot darkens in the final act, the setting changes dramatically, with the action dipping the toe into drug-taking as well as alcohol in the last scene – some great acting as the opera crescendos into melodrama before a gruelling climax played out against a background of violent storms (great lighting from Simon Mills) as Gilda sacrifices her life for the man she loves despite his faithlessness, and Rigoletto realises that his obsessive love for his daughter has led to her death..
Under the baton of Alexander Joel, whose first season with the WNO this is, the orchestra gives a magnificent account both of itself and Verdi’s wonderful score which remains unaltered and always a huge pleasure to hear.
Reviewed on 12th October 2019 | Image: Contributed