Opera Holland Park – Rigoletto

Rigoletto [Opera in Three Acts; libretto by F. Piave after Victor Hugo]

Rigoletto – Olafur Sigurdason
Guilda – Gail Pearson
Duke of Mantua – Paul O’Neill
Sparafucile – Graeme Danby
Maddalena – Heather Shipp
Count Monterone – Nicholas Falwell
Marullo – David Stout
Borsa – Aled Hall
Count Ceprano – David Soar
Countess Ceprano – Lisa Crosato
Giovanna – Nicola Smedley
Usher – Henry Grant Kerswell

Opera Holland Park Chorus

City of London Sinfonia
Peter Robinson

John La Bouchardière – Director
Jamie Vartan – Set design
Colin Grenfell – Lighting design

Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson

Reviewed: 20 July, 2006
Venue: Opera Holland Park, London

What a thoroughly indestructible “Rigoletto” is! Verdi’s seventeenth opera, first heard at Venice in 1851, has been presented in all sorts of styles, periods & settings, some convincing, some outlandish, but Francesco Piave’s libretto and Verdi’s sublime music still work their magic. This performance continued that spell.

Production-wise, John La Bouchardière’s ideas stand at rather an odd angle to the plot; he spotlights the subtext beneath the relationships; not just Rigoletto’s with Gilda, but also that of the Duke, and out of this builds up a tension which simply fails to address the central idea – Monterone’s Curse. It is all very imaginative, and there are some truly stunning images, but in the end one is left feeling puzzled.

Bouchardière’s direction of the work is, however, first-class. Movement, gestures and facial expressions, however small have full emotional impact. One remembers the look on Rigoletto’s face as he presents another conquest to his Master: it is one of fawning sycophancy, masking his deep-seated contempt both for himself and all around him. Giovanna, the Duenna, a lovely cameo from Nicola Smedley, as she takes the bribe from the Duke in the second scene is another moment. Such attention to important details pervades the entire evening; it’s a technique that isn’t learnt, it comes from a truly instinctive sense of the drama, and is completely illuminating.

This reviewer has seen some dozen productions now at this most enjoyable Festival, but states quite firmly that there has never been an evening where the Pit and the Stage have been so at one. Peter Robinson’s control of the orchestra, his vision of the score and his sympathy with the singers were simply supreme. The clarity in the ensembles, especially those with the (as ever) superb Chorus was an object lesson.

Olafur Sigudarson is almost a member of the Holland Park family by now, and he turned in another big, strong performance in the title role. From Monterone’s curse (the resonant tones of Nicholas Folwell) Rigoletto’s fears became almost palpable – truly haunted. Elsewhere the singing and the acting were faultless.

Gilda was sung by Gail Pearson. Her appearance in her first entrance, dressed as a doll-like figure, is almost unnerving, and her singing throughout was radiant. Her transformation in Act Two, after her seduction by the Duke, was total. The ensuing confession with her father was beautifully felt and sung.

Paul O’Neill’s Duke is in the tenore di grazie mould. A firm, lyrical voice used well, he presented a handsome, caddish figure. No wonder Gilda fell for him.

The supporting characters were all well cast, with Paul Reeves’s Sparafucile presenting a truly menacing assassin. Donnatella Barbiere’s stunning costumes must not pass without mention, the entire Court in modern dress, with the women in black cocktail garb. But the real triumph was Maddalena: dressed is leather hot-pants, stiletto heels, she looked the ideal S & M maitresse. All this and a well-sung assassin’s sister to boot!

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