Rigoletto Review – Scottish Opera 18 October 2018

Scottish Opera has chosen to begin its season of main stage operas this year with a revival – the production of Director Matthew Richardson’s Rigoletto which was first seen in 2011.

If anything the passage of time makes both the opera itself and this particular production all the more relevant. This is a piece that has #metoo written all over it and this production very successfully illuminates and condemns a world of male violence and privilege.

This always was a stylish show too. There is much to like about Jon Morrell’s design and the whole thing is fabulously lit throughout by Tony Rabbit. Significant parts of the action are played before strong sidelights which cast enormous shadows and it very cleverly begins to seem as though the shadows behind the characters are where the real business lies.

So far, so dark and that fits perfectly with the plot, but what was it like? Well, there is much to appreciate and there is no doubt that this is an enjoyable night. I happened to take a friend who had never been to an opera before and this is perfect first opera territory. The story is told clearly and with some elegance. The music is glorious and of course, you come out singing that tune, having been made very much aware that despite it appearing in TV advertisements and as background music everywhere, La Donna e mobile is as nasty a piece of misogyny as you will find in any repertoire.

However, there is a problem with this outing of this production and it is a simple one. Anyone who remembers seeing it in 2011 may well remember that the singing was simply better than the singing this time around.

Aris Argiris in the title role, we were informed before the curtain went up, was suffering from a cold. Certainly, that did not seem to have any effect on the power of his voice. However, its strength worked much better expressing Rigoletto’s rage than his tenderness. His acting is very fine and he dominated the stage. His Rigoletto very clearly bullies his daughter, as he is being bullied by members of the Duke’s court.  Lina Johnson gives a very touching portrayal of Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter though their duets lacked a little in emotional depth. Alas, the problem with Adam Smith’s Duke of Matua was that he had the apect more of a student portraying a duke than a duke dressing up to win the affections of Gilda as a student. He was delightful but I’d have believed him more if we’d seen more much menace.

The high vocal point in the whole production was the quartet Bella figlia dell’amore involving, Argiris, Smith, Johnson and Sioned Gwen Davies as Maddelena. This was a delight. It was also beautifully accompanied. Rumon Gamba kept the orchestra firmly in order throughout and tended towards the tender, which suited the singing completely.

The all-male chorus sing beautifully, look menacing and do obscene things with female mannequins. One could scarcely ask for more.

There is much to like and respect in this production. The story is told with grace, simplicity and style. Musically it is lovely, though excellence, sadly, eludes it.

This review appeared first in the pages of Scene Alba.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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