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 – Carlos Álvarez
Duke of Mantua – Liparit Avetisyan
Gilda – Lisette Oropesa
Sparafucile – Brindley Sherratt
Maddalena – Ramona Zaharia
Count Monterone – Eric Greene
Giovanna – Kseniia Nikolaieva
Marullo – Dominic Sedgwick
Matteo Borsa – Egor Zhuravskii
Count Ceprano – Blaise Malaba
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Antonio Pappano
Director – Oliver Mears
Set designer – Simon Lima Holdsworth
Costume designer – Ilona Karas
Lighting designer – Fabiana Piccioli
Movement director – Anna Morrissey
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 13 September, 2021
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
A full house for this season-opening new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. It is Director of Opera Oliver Mears’s first production for his company, and is the first time that Antonio Pappano has conducted the piece here; it’s been three decades since he last did it anywhere.
There’s no equivocation here: this was a triumphant full reopening of the Royal Opera House. After the emotional roller-coaster of the past eighteen months – which saw the run of Fidelio, and the whole 2019-20 season, finish prematurely (March 2020) then a few performances of The Nutcracker in December 2020 before an abrupt closure, and then a curtailed season, with on- and off-stage social-distancing (May – July 2021) – there is a full 2021-22 season planned.
Mears has produced what appears at first to be entirely conventional: we get Mantua in period, with actors posing as if a painted scene from a Caravaggio, the terrific lighting replicating that murderous artist’s great gift for chiaroscuro, and a large backcloth of a reproduction of Titian’s Venus of Urbino – a painted palatial hall. Then things take a turn, as modern-dressed inhabitants appear, and we recognise the reality: a mobster-world where expensive paintings are looked over, and the mobster-in-chief, The Duke, has such command over his men that they abduct girls and he can enjoy himself without worrying over whom he tramples. The use of Titian’s The Rape of Europa as a replacement for the Venus by The Duke highlights his egregious hubris: it shows and reminds us what he does: like Zeus abducted Europa, so The Duke takes what he wants.
As the eponymous hunchback, Carlos Álvarez had the measure of the role: tragedy personified. His pain at his pitiful predicament – destined to be a butt of the jokes, and losing the one thing that gave him purpose, his daughter, is such a diabolical way – is given profound expression, and the encounters with the assassin Sparafucile were terrifyingly sinister. Brindley Sherratt as that assassin was vocally assured, with layers of calm intertwined with it’s-just-a-job conviction: chilling, evil stuff.
Liparit Avetisyan’s Duke had swagger. Whilst we know that he might have at times been in mortal danger, he is oblivious, and sails through life as others fall. This Duke is ‘entitled’ and demanding. And he gets what he wants. Avetisyan’s Duke was imbued with this confidence. His prey, Gilda – Rigoletto’s hidden daughter – is so convinced by his charm that she sacrifices her life. One could interpret this as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Her earlier abduction and (off-stage) rape is horrific, as is Rigoletto’s discovery of her at the Duke’s palace. Lisette Oropesa gave Gilda everything: she was warm voiced with her father, later steely determined, and ultimately fragile as she implores Him in Heaven for guidance, showing us the real Gilda.
The Orchestra under Pappano gave a magnificent account of the music. Individual details abounded, there was rasping bite at many turns, and the storm was frighteningly furious. The propulsive energy – never rushing – that Pappano brought to the score allowed the drama to be all-encompassing. The all-male chorus acquitted itself superbly: in both voice and movement. Those malevolent cries during the storm, and the abduction scene, chilled to the bone. This was a complete performance, all – staging, singing, playing – working together tremendously.
Six further performances until 29 September.