Rigoletto Review – Scottish Opera

Rating: ★★★★☆

Here’s the review that I wrote for Opera Britannia of Scottish Opera’s current Rigoletto:

From the moment the curtain went up on this stylish and beautifully sung Rigoletto, it was clear that this was going to be a confident production. We saw a dark, blank stage with only a simple door, drawn slightly carelessly as though with chalk. It was but the first of many bold visual images which punctuated an assured and very satisfying musical achievement.

This single door soon gave way to a barrier wall, upon which red curtaining had been painted, which consisted of a further series of doors, through which we could glimpse a ball in progress. What was not immediately apparent was that when we first caught sight of the malevolent chorus of courtiers, they were not in fact dancing with real women at all but with a series of mannequins. These eerie plastic figures were to recur throughout the evening in what was to prove a strong and well thought through staging. The twenty-six strong chorus themselves, when not larking about with mannequins, were in good heart and good voice throughout.

The first to shine on stage was Edgaras Montvidas whose Duke of Mantua was a force to be reckoned with. This duke was a cocky soul, strutting his stuff whenever he was on stage. Montvidas has a voice which perfectly matched the bravado which he brought to his part. This was a Duke who was arrogant, brash, conceited and vain but it was clear too that he had a great deal on offer vocally to be conceited about. His Parmi veder le lagrime in the second act seemed particularly effortless and whilst it is difficult to bring anything new to La donna è mobile, Montvidas gave an assured rendition all the same.

The Duke’s jester, Rigoletto was played by Eddie Wade.  Here was a brilliant performance. Wade’s unfortunate hunchback ran the whole gamut of emotions before our eyes and explored an extraordinary palate of vocal colours as he did so. His duets with Nadine Livingston (as Gilda) were wonderfully tender and the contrast between that tenderness and the bitter agony of the last act was one of the things which left the greatest impression of the evening. Pure and clear when playing the over-protective parent and a shocking nasal rage when he later discovered that he had been betrayed and had lost his daughter after all.

The fairly recent Josef Fritzl case in Austria – where a father held his daughter captive for 24 years, does give the Rigoletto story a contemporary resonance which in turn offers layers which we’ve never been able to explore before. Wade’s Rigoletto was completely creepy and possessed of a horrifying darkness, whether jigging around at court in the manner of a deranged Max Wall or skulking around hiring others to play out his own inner violence.

Nadine Livingston’s Gilda was pure gold. Her polished, shining voice effortlessly soared heavenward whilst musing on her love for the Duke as she sang Gualtier Maldè! … Caro nome. This was perhaps the only point in the evening when the set got in the way of the singing. Though we were entranced by Miss Livingston’s declaration of intent, things started to happen around her which were more than a little distracting. The back wall of the room which had hitherto imprisoned her started to give way to a window through which she could sing, but through which we could see a revolving glitter-ball casting its dancing spangles all over the stage. It was perhaps just one glitter-ball too many in an evening which could already be described as glitter-ball positive.

Miss Livingston is described as being part of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists programme. It was quite clear from her performance that she has in fact emerged and done so with an admirable grace and elegance.

Amongst the other voices on stage, particular mention must be made of Gregory Frank. His portrayal of Sparafucile the contract killer was breathtaking. Frank’s glorious rich bass poured out into the theatre like warm blood dripping from a fatal wound.

Throughout the proceedings, Tobias Ringborg, conducting apparently from memory, kept driving an enlarged orchestra to great musical heights with the best playing that’s come from the Scottish Opera pit this season.

Perhaps the most striking scenes were played out at the end of the piece. Normally, Rigoletto is handed what seems to be the dead body of the Duke only to discover it to be the still dying body of his daughter Gilda with whom he sings an agonising parting duet before her death. In this production, director Matthew Richardson ensured that we were in no doubt at all that Gilda was dead. Rigoletto was handed a package which was soon to be revealed as one of the mannequins which had so punctured the whole evening. This was a believable corpse, but what about the duet?

Sure enough, Nadine Livingston reappeared on stage but this time as the ghost of Gilda. Always behind her father and ought of his line of sight, she described her death from beyond the grave rather than being the operatic cliché of an almost dead diva singing as though full of life. It was a clever conceit and worked well. Indeed, this kind of assured management of the stage business was characteristic of a delightfully well conceived show.

The closing duets from Wade and Miss Livingston reconfirmed, lest there have been any doubt from their performances earlier in the evening that they had been perfectly cast together. Though Wade’s Rigoletto had been deeply unpleasant, somewhere in his agony over his daughter, it was possible to find a sense of compassion for him. This was a complex, rich and dark Rigoletto completely believable in his pain and completely satisfying to listen to.

As the curtain came down, it was clear that the best scenes had been saved until the end. That curtain marked the end of Scottish Opera’s all too short season but it was clear that they had saved their best production until last too.

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