Opera Holland Park – Rigoletto

Rigoletto – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Rigoletto – Robert Poulton
Gilda – Julia Sporsén
Duke – Jaewoo Kim
Sparafucile – Graeme Broadbent
Maddalena – Patricia Orr
Giovanna – Laura Woods
Monterone – William Robert Allenby
Count Ceprano – Simon Wilding
Countess Ceprano – Anna Patalong
Marullo – John Lofthouse
Borsa – Neal Cooper
Court Usher – Mark Spyroloulos
Page – Caroline Kennedy

Opera Holland Park Chorus

City of London Sinfonia
Stuart Stratford

Lindsay Posner – Director
Tom Scutt – Designer
Philip Gladwell – Lighting designer
Nikki Woollaston – Choreography

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 26 July, 2011
Venue: Opera Holland Park, Kensington, London

As a somewhat overcast sky held sway the audience arrived for this opening night of Opera Holland Park’s new production of Rigoletto, which is full of climatic atmospherics. Lindsay Posner’s modern-dress staging has moments of insight and theatricality, but only gets going in the second half, and for seasoned audiences may have too many visual reminders of the seminal Jonathan Miller ‘mafia’ production (often revived at English National Opera). The occasionally intractable Holland Park stage also imposes some directorial and staging challenges here met by the clever designs of Tom Scutt. He has placed most of the interior scenes (Gilda’s room in Rigoletto’s house, Sparafucile’s hut) in reconstructed containers that can be rotated. These mini-sets also provide acoustic help for the singers when they sing from within them. The palace scenes use the original stone doorway and steps to effect. The lighting is also simply effective, especially for the final Act’s storm scenes.

In this production women are evidently viewed as a commodity, the courtesans dressed in the deep red. We see some of the ladies complicit in this and others less happily so. Gilda’s emergence after her abduction in the same red cunningly suggests her to have ‘fallen” and to have begun her grooming in her new world. The story is otherwise told pretty straight, although passages occur where odd dramatic misjudgements and an unwanted jokiness sometimes intrude. One such is the duet of Gilda and the disguised Duke after he has bribed his way into her bedroom and which uses their combined vocal cadenzas as a cue for some suggestive sexual activity between them. This brought embarrassed titters. One should feel ambivalent about the Duke’s motives and his deception, but surely laughter is not the response that should be provoked. Perhaps Posner’s most-striking idea is in the final scene where Gilda’s dying utterances are sung from on-high as he holds a dummy of his daughter’s lifeless body. This worked extremely well and dispensed with the convention of the crouching baritone holding the soprano in a position where they can both sing.

There was some excellent singing and playing. Stuart Stratford kept the pace dramatic and Verdi’s innovative scoring emerged freshly. The highly distinctive off-stage male chorus contributions to the storm scenes were perfectly judged sonically, which made one wonder whether a similar solution could not have been found for the banda music in the first Act – here played from the pit. The players of the City of London Sinfonia were on fine fettle – piquant woodwind, blazing brass and memorable contributions from the principal cello and double bass players.

Robert Poulton’s Rigoletto is a very fine assumption indeed. Dramatically it is a relatively traditional portrayal; vocally he has all the necessary bite and authority when needed as well as the warm lyricism for the scenes with Gilda. Rigoletto’s abrupt mood-changes were evoked well.

Jaewoo Kim’s Duke was well enough sung, the problem being that his voice does not have the necessary amplitude. If anything his singing was too elegant and lacked the necessary swagger and ebullience that allows the character to register dramatically as the powerful libertine that few would stand up to. This lack of stage and vocal dominance allied to the restrained depiction of hedonistic excess contributed to the slow start. He was rather better in the intimate scenes with Gilda. In that role Julia Sporsén made a notable impression after a slightly nervous beginning. By the time of ‘Caro nome’ her penetrating and agile voice was soaring freely, and from thence she provided singing generous of line and phrase. She was a feistier Gilda than many, particularly in the tricky ‘Tutte le feste al tempio” bringing to that an element of anger and recrimination against her father, and carrying that sense through to the vengeance duet that follows. Her self-sacrifice was dramatically credible, and her vocal contribution to the final scene helped make the dramatic idea work.

In the smaller roles Patricia Orr was a rich voiced Maddalena and Laura Woods an effectively duplicitous Giovanna. The principal courtiers all made their presence felt, but could have been better differentiated. Graeme Broadbent’s voice perhaps lacks inky blackness for the assassin Sparafucile, but he made up for this with strong presence and vocalism. Best of all was William Robert Allenby’s authoritative yet patrician Monterone, surviving the messy ‘press barrage’ idea of his final appearance. Not vintage OHP Verdi perhaps – but it still makes for a good evening in the theatre.

  • Performances continue until August 13
  • OHP

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