From the opening dramatic chords we know we are in for an emotional roller-coaster ride in this gripping revival of the Elijah Moshinksy production of RIGOLETTO for Opera Australia , first seen in 1991 .
Updated a bit, it is set in Italy in the 1950’s or thereabouts so think Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ … the land of omerta, hidden secrets, revenge, curses, disguised identities and powerful ( if very restricting ) familial love.
This production is directed by revival director Hugh Halliday and features magnificent leads and arresting chorus performances , while concentrating and accenting its dramatic core .
Written in 1851 the opera’s narrative follows the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s innocent, beautiful daughter Gilda. The opera was originally going to be called La maledizione (The Curse), referring to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by Monterone , a courtier whose daughter the Duke has seduced with Rigoletto’s connivance. The curse is fulfilled when Gilda falls in love with the Duke and sacrifices her life to save him from assassins hired by her father.
Under the baton of Maestro Renato Palumbo the Opera Australia Orchestra gave a rich, glowing performance .
Michael Yeargan’s opulent set designs with outdoor sections, nifty use of the revolve and incredibly detailed interiors ( Giovanna cooking pasta and the ostentatious Ducal palace crowded with assorted paintings, for example) are stunning as is Robert Bryan’s atmospheric lighting .
Dalibor Jenis as bitter, passionate Rigoletto was in commanding top form. As the Count’s court fool he is ugly and reviled. He loves his daughter Gilda dearly but forces her to lead a very restricted life. We see the pain and anguish as he has to continually act the fool for his employer the Duke and how he rages against him. Some of the opera perhaps prefigures Pagliacci. Jenis reveals the complex multi layers of Rigoletto – his imperfections, vulnerability, strength and aloofness – in a towering performance. Rigoletto and Gilda’s duet in Act 2 is a highlight .
Gianluca Terranova as the philandering , charismatic Duke was in sensational seductive form full of machismo, (as in Act 1 where the Duke lyrically convinces Gilda that he loves her with “È il sol dell’anima” (“Love is the sunshine of the soul”) and the famous La Donna e Mobile in Act 3 was jauntily performed with great panache.
Irina Lungu as sweet, innocent, self -sacrificing Gilda , Rigoletto’s daughter, was magnificent and in buoyant superb voice. She has a terrific lyrical, supple soprano of great facility. Her Caro Nome was ravishing and captured the dizzy wonder of first love and her singing in Act 3 was fiercely eloquent .
Sian Pendry is notable, doubling as arthritic, corrupt housekeeper and chaperone, Giovanna, and cougar (or siren) like Maddalena, Sparafucile’s temptress sister.
Taras Berezhansky, as sinister gravelly voiced Sparafucile, menacing assassin and publican was macho and dominating.
Ileana Rinaldi is a glamourous , enticing Countess Ceprano, and Christopher Hillier excellently portrays her unaccommodating husband the furious Count Ceprano, who is something of a dandy .
Gennadi Dubinsky as Monterone pronounced his curse on the Duke and Rigoletto with chilling force.
The choreography for the sunglass wearing male chorus in Act 2 when they engineer the abduction of Gilda was stylised and tightly performed. The Duke’s lavish parties were crowded with action (including a Catholic cardinal dancing with a lady of the night ! ) but also featured some visually arresting frozen tableaux. And I mustn’t forget the car .