Paul Selar, newly appointed Critic In Training, shares his first impressions of Rigoletto
Last Saturday night, at approximately 10pm, a brutal murder was witnessed at the Arts Centre, Melbourne. We know the victim was female, her name Gilda. Repeatedly stabbed by a hired killer paid to dispose of a high-ranking statesman, she died shortly after in the arms of her physically deformed father. This wretchedly disturbing story forms the basis of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 chilling tragedy, Rigoletto, and is brought to life with a thrilling new production presented by O|A to open the 2014 Melbourne season.
Not since Elijah Moshinsky’s glittering 1991 production has O|A attempted a new Rigoletto. Surprisingly returning the story to its original 16th century setting in Mantua, Director, Roger Hodgman, and Designer, Richard Roberts, astutely convey the catastrophe unleashed by the plot. The scenic drama is masterful, as is the concept to forego detailed naturalism to create an impression of the period. In the fluid mix of this interpretation, there are occasions, however, when for me, it distracts from the acted drama.
“As a witness, you can’t but feel helplessness and the inability to intervene.”
Some of the strongest effects are created by clever use of a double revolving set. During the opening musical prelude, taking an approach I have not seen before, Rigoletto, in ordinary attire, bids farewell to his daughter, and trudges to the palace. He passes a couple in amorous bliss, then disappears just as a palace room, clad in semi-polished black granite, rotates to reveal a party of courtiers garbed in ruby red velvet. This exciting effect is exemplary of what follows. The theatrical brilliance is reached during the Act Three storm scene in one of opera’s great dramatic pieces when a chilling crescendo accompanies the murder of the disguised Gilda. As a witness, you can’t but feel helplessness and the inability to intervene.
“Rigoletto stands centre stage, alone and facing the audience, asking for forgiveness for an act he is yet to carry out.”
Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester in the services of the Duke of Mantua, is what Verdi himself described as “…one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of”. Portraying the multi-faceted character of Rigoletto, baritone Warwick Fyfe is outstanding and tireless. His hauntingly dramatic rendition and vocal prowess more than compensates for the occasional lapse in phrasing. In his Act Two aria, “Pari siamo…Io la lingua”, Fyfe is unforgettably compelling as his Rigoletto stands centre stage, alone and facing the audience, asking for forgiveness for an act he is yet to carry out.
As the Duke, Italian tenor, Gianluca Terranova, gives a magical performance with a voice exhibiting a warm timbre and resonant finish. The infamous Act Three aria, “La donna è mobile”, about which Verdi famously demanded secrecy before opera’s premiere, was justifiably applauded with much enthusiasm on opening night.
Russian-born soprano, Irina Dubrovskaya’s magnificence as Gilda is immediate. Her radiant vocal range and physical presence is breathtakingly evident, as is her consummate experience in the role. Dubrovskaya’s performance here will not go unnoticed. Her first act rendition of “Gualtier Maldé…Caro nome” on opening night produced one of those moments in the opera theatre when both silence and music are felt in one simultaneous, ecstatic moment.
No stranger to the great stages of world opera, Daniel Sumegi shakes the lowest bass range with flair and frightening force in the role of the hired killer, Sparafucile, whilst Sian Pendry’s performance as Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister and accomplice, is gorgeously sensuous in both character and voice.
The balance of light and dark, the “chiaroscuro”, in Verdi’s monumentally dramatic score was transferred to the stage eloquently by Orchestra Victoria under the leadership of the Italian conductor, Renato Palumbo. Opening night launched with a speedy eagerness but the orchestra gradually settled, igniting the pit with a performance of indelible strength. And by no means forgotten, the Male Chorus deserve the highest praise for their gloriously unified vocal dexterity.
It’s been said many a time that Rigoletto is one opera that must be seen before you die and with this O|A production you will understand why. If it’s your first time, I daresay it won’t be your last.
Rigoletto runs to 10 May at Arts Centre Melbourne and 26 June – 24 August at Sydney Opera House
TICKETS from $59 https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/rigolettomelbourne
Student Rush $50 one hour before performance
Read what other critics are saying about Rigoletto