So, a new Rigoletto production. Which aims to take it back to sixteenth century Mantua of the setting, rather than the La dolce vita of Opera Australia’s venerable production it replaced, or the Las Vegas of The Met production or… Well, let’s be honest, these days, setting Rigoletto in the correct location, in the depicted period, is something of a novelty these days. Does it work still, in our days of demanding a visual feast of excitement and new interpretations? Or is it too, just another gimmick to appeal to our jaded tastes?
Well, first of all, the source material is very strong. Some of Verdi’s best known tunes, La donna é mobile (aka the Leggos ad music), Caro nome, Questa o quella, the quartet at the end, in a dramatic tale. These are all works of genius tossed throughout the opera, working as stand alone pieces, yet taking on an amazing strength when staged well. And, mostly, it is. This is a stripped back to the roots production, with a focus on the performers, not one where your eye is drawn left right and centre distractedly.
And what performances. Reuniting the Lucia cast of two years ago was the principal reason I wanted to see this production, and this cast. And, I was not disappointed. Giorgio Caoduro and Emma Matthews are one of those pairings that we dream of. With huge respect and love for each other, they also are both amazing singers, setting a high standard for all of their colleagues to follow. it is easy to believe in them as father and daughter, despite their ages suggesting nearly the opposite.
Emma brings her beautiful, flexible, silvery tone and intelligence to this role. Her Caro nome is every bit as gorgeous as expected, as well as an aria she lives. She takes the idea of teenage emotional excess and runs with it, at the same time, remaining curiously naive. By the time this is finished, we have no doubt that this girl is both deeply infatuated with the bad boy tenor, but has no experience of life. This is the big first love of her life, and she has no idea of what that means.
As her father, Caoduro was better than I hoped. He brought both the fearless mocker of all, as well as the loving father, and made them connected. His singing continues to impress, bringing a clear ringing sound of considerable beauty and power to the role. If at times, it seemed not as rich as expected in this role, it was only in the quieter moments, when some extra strength seemed needed. But, he is a very young Rigoletto and with age, he will prove to be an astonishing one. At the moment, vocally, he is merely very good. I only hope I get to hear him sing this again, in ten years time, when his voice has grown in richness.
Our Duke was Gianluca Terranova, bringing a reliable Italianate sound to the role. His is not the voice of a Pavarotti or other starry tenor, but he is a capable singer, and relished the chance to sing such glorious music. If it was not a performance of great depth, part of me feels that was partly a matter of direction, and partly a matter of performing approach. It felt more a colour by numbers performance, lacking the intensity of the other two leads. That said, in some ways, his job is to be a cypher, a character that does not have a significant emotional range or journey, rather someone who causes them in others.
The Sparafucile of David Parkin continues to impress. His voice continues to improve and his stage presence shows how far he has come from his days of Operatunity, even if he is again singing the first role he sang for Opera Australia, not that many years ago.
Indeed, it has to be said, a big pleasure of this production is that there was no one on stage who sang badly. Every solo role was heard clearly, in pitch and in character. Even Lisa Cooper, who had stepped in to replace the usual (indisposed) Page was clear and assured.
If there was any disappointment, it would have to be in the fact that after opening for the rowdy first scene, the two revolves that the set was built on failed to work. The change to scene 2 where Sparafucile and Rigoletto meet was delayed by more than ten minutes, while the gremlins were dealt with. it was a curiously disappointing note on an other wise highly impressive evening. It also made me think back to the last Rossini opera I saw, where the single revolve for that set refused to work at all, causing some on the night restaging. Does OperaAustralia have a backstage maintenance problem?
But, to be fair, fifteen minutes of waiting for a fix was a small price to pay, when for everything else, the opera gods were smiling.