Eleanor Wood is reviewing Opera Australia’s Sydney Winter season with guidance from professional critics, Opera Australia’s own music staff and writing professionals.
Lock up your daughters: Rigoletto returns in Opera Australia’s new production
Review by Eleanor Wood
Curses, lust and revenge; what’s not to love? Verdi’s 1851 tale of innocence, betrayal and vengeance is one of the most popular operatic works in the bel canto repertoire.
Opera Australia’s new production sees outstanding performances from the principle cast and chorus, making it a production well worth seeing. The opening scene takes us to the Duke’s court in Mantua, a den of debauched pleasure-seekers and courtesans. We see the figure of Rigoletto, the tormented, hunchback jester as he spies on the Duke with his latest conquest.
Director Roger Hodgman and set designer Richard Roberts have restored Rigoletto to its original time and place in 16th-century Mantua. This is aided by Tracy Lord’s sumptuous costumes and lighting design by Matt Scott. The sets comprise two revolving stages and are used seamlessly to great effect.
Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro heads an outstanding cast in this new production. He brings tenderness and pathos to his role of the deformed court joker and sings with impeccable line and control. His use of the text is masterful. As a native Italian speaker, he colours every line with intent.
It is impossible not to feel sympathy for Rigoletto, a paranoid and lonely figure forced to find his way in a hostile world. Rigoletto’s weapon of choice is his jokes: he quips, “I have my tongue, he has his sword.” His aria Cortigiani vil razza dannata at the beginning of Act 3is particularly moving, as he realises his weapon of words no longer wields any power over the court.
The relationship between father and daughter is one of zealous control. Rigoletto guards his daughter obsessively, locking her up and permitting her to leave the house only for church. Australian coloratura soprano Emma Matthews plays Gilda, Rigoletto’s beautiful, sheltered daughter. It is easy to see why Matthews is such a beloved figure in the Australian operatic landscape. She brings conviction, honesty and passion to a role that could easily become timid. Her Caro Nome is excellent and the aria’s cadenza is exquisitely handled.
The Duke, played by Italian tenor Gianluca Terranova, has all the charm and swagger of a man who can, and does, take any woman he wants.
Amidst the drama, Verdi’s use of black comedy does occasionally shine through. There are wonderful moments of comic timing in Act 2 from Dominica Matthews as Gilda’s nurse, Giovanna. The Duke’s reprise of his famous aria La donna è mobile elicited laughter from the audience upon Rigoletto’s realization that his plan to have the Duke killed has failed. The early court scenes with the chorus feel a little stilted but one imagines they will become bolder over the course of the season.
In supporting roles, David Parkin is menacing as Sparafucile, with an impressive physical presence and powerful bass notes. Sian Pendry sings with warmth and sensuality as his sister, Maddalena. However I was left wanting more insight into the sinister complexities of their relationship.
Conductor Renato Palumbo leads the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra with energy and sensitivity; creating drive through the bustling court scenes, and allowing for expansion and expression as the drama requires.
Verdi’s soaring melodies, high drama and a standout cast make this a production not to be missed.
WHAT DID THE OTHER CRITICS SAY?
“An outstanding achievement” – The Australian (paywall)
“What a treat this production is: An outstanding cast, a simple but effective set with two huge rotating set pieces, colourful costumes and the joy of some of opera’s most glorious music.” - The Manly Daily
“A trio of principals as individual in their artistry as they are consistent in their quality.” – Sydney Morning Herald