Reviewed by Paul Charlesworth
According to the website, Operasense, Rigoletto is among the top ten operas in terms of frequency of performance. It comes as something of a surprise, then, that this is Glyndebourne’s first production of one of Verdi’s most popular operas.
Before going on to review the virtues or otherwise of Christiane Lutz’s Glyndebourne production, I should say that I would certainly not wish to discourage anybody from attending a performance: Rigoletto is packed with scenes and arias that will be familiar even to those who do not often attend opera and in this touring production, the musical standards are very high; so if you like beautiful music performed by world-class artistes, you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see a company of this class in a theatre close to you.
Unfortunately, on the night I attended, the Georgian baritone, Nokolz Lagvilava, who was billed to play Rigoletto, was indisposed. Although disappointing, given the demands of a lead role, this sort of last-minute absence is not infrequent in opera. In the event, Michael Druiett sung the role from the side of the stage, while Jofre van der Meer walked the part. While both performers did admirably in stepping up to the breach, it was ultimately distracting. This was not helped by an over-complicated production, that was at times difficult to follow.
The other main parts were all performed well. In particular, the Duke was played with due swagger by the tenor Matteo Lippi, who sang with great power and authority, and Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, the part of whom is taken by the South African soprano, Vuvu Mpofu, who is outstanding in the role and hits the high notes with apparent ease. There are really no weak performances and I also have to commend the orchestra, under Jonathan Bloxham, which played with colour and precision throughout.
The production itself, however, left a lot to be desired.
The opera has quite a simple plot: The Duke of Mantua is an inveterate womaniser and his hunch-backed court jester, Rigoletto, is happy to aid and abet him in his licentious endeavours. A curse is put on both of them by a courtier, Monterone, whose daughter has been seduced by the Duke, with Rigoletto’s encouragement.
Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter, Gilda, falls in love with the Duke and in desperation, Rigoletto employs an assassin, Sparafucile, to murder him. Gilda learns of the plot and effectively sacrifices her life to save the Duke. In the best tradition of tragic opera, it all ends in tears as the bereaved Rigoletto wails that the curse has come to pass.
This plot lends itself to a wide variety of settings. To make significant changes to the main themes, the libretto or the musical integrity of an opera, however, particularly one by such a master of the genre as Verdi, rarely adds to a production and too often distracts or detracts.
For me, this production of Rigoletto contains too many extraneous and often confusing changes and additions. I was, for example, never sure of the purpose of the grey haired, grey suited man (Rigoletto as an old man?) who does a strip-tease during the overture and reappears at several points in the opera to squirm around on the floor, or of the recording of an apparent interview with an aged Rigoletto at the start of each act.
The action takes place in a sort of 1920s Hollywood screen set and Rigoletto first appears as Charlie Chaplin; Quite why, I’m not sure. There is also a strange addition to act I that involves the suicide of Monterone’s daughter and the adoption of her child by Rigoletto. This unnecessary inclusion seemed to confuse the temporal continuity of the plot.
Overall, this production is just too complicated, and the effect is to distract from some beautiful music and excellent individual performances.
The Glyndebourne tour continues at Woking with Handel’s Rinaldo on Friday 29th and Rigoletto on Saturday 30th, before finishing at Norwich on 3rd to 7th December.
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Glyndebourne’s Rigoletto is at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking 27 & 30 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/new-victoria-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7645.
New Victoria Theatre, The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, Surrey, GU21 6GQ