Reviewed by Jayne Wiggins
Verdi’s popular opera is brought to Milton Keynes with a contemporary twist by the touring Glyndebourne company. Director Christiane Lutz steps out of the 16th century to bring the audience into contemporary 20s Hollywood. For me, that’s where the power of this opera is lost!
Act 1 opens is a 20s studio setting with the paparazzi and buzz of a press conference. We are introduced to the powerful Duke character played by Matteo Lippi and his jester character Rigoletto (tranformed into a Charlie Chaplin comedian) – played by the strong Nikoloz Lagvilava. This did not hit the right mark with a weak character show for the Duke instead of the arrogant Duke I wanted to see. Lippi’s vocals were faultless yet his portrayal of an all powerful playboy was not realised.
Lagvilava’s Rigolleto was a mixed bag. His court jester performance and comic ridicule of the husbands and fathers of the Duke’s conquests showed a character used to performing to the crowds, yet it did not portray a forced loyalty to his Duke. In fact, this jester, this Charlie Chaplin seemed to enjoy the ridicule for too much himself (his lament towards the end of the opera was out of line with his portrayal throughout the show).
When Rigolleto ridicules Count Ceprano after the Duke is found to have fathered a child to Ceprano’s daughter, Ceprano curses both Rigolleto and the Duke (quite frankly I would have coursed Rigolleto too!). The plot is thickened more in this translation of the opera but with a confusion which I couldn’t work out until far into Act 1! As Ceprano is escorted away, Rigolleto is left picking up the illegitimate child as the mother is shown to commit suicide.
On his way home Rigolleto meets the assassin Sparafucile where in the original opera, Rigolleto is to realise the error of his ridiculing ways, realising that he cuts people with words as Sparafucile does with blades. Upon going home to his young daughter Gilda, Rigolleto is to become filled with love and protection for her and remorse for his life’s loyalty to his Duke.
When Rigolleto meets a group of courtiers (stage hands) plotting to kidnap his daughter who they mistakenly think is his mistress, they trick him into believing they are kidnapping Countess Ceprano. The audience is shown how Rigolleto realises that the curse of Count Ceprano has begun by the appearance of ‘the curse’ on stage in the form of a grey haired mute character (a confusion I realised only at the end of act 3!)
Act 2 opens with the Duke in distress that Gilda has gone missing. Having declared his heart belonging to her, he is relieved to discover that the courtiers mistook her as Rigoletto’s mistress in their kidnap. As such he is now able to take her to his room and enjoy the ‘love’ he has been pining for. Rigoletto meanwhile arrives at the studio full of wrath upon discovering the truth about the relationship between the Duke and his daughter. Gilda begs for mercy for her lover.
Act 3 sees Rigolleto proving to Gilda that her lover is nothing but a philanderer as he shows her the Duke seducing Maddalena. Despite this she still loves the Duke though she agrees to go away, with Rigolleto agreeing to catch up with her later. When she is gone Rigolleto once again meets the asassin Sparafucile and pays him the kill the Duke, agreeing to save the body so Rigoletto himself can be the man to exact his revenge by throwing the body into the river. However, Maddalena has taken a shine to the handsome Duke and begs her brother to save the Duke if another victim appears before midnight.
Despite proof that her lover is not the man she hopes for, Gilda does not leave the city, instead hearing of the plan she hides in the entrance to the inn where the Duke is now taking refuge from a storm. She hears that they would kill Rigolleto instead so as not to admit to sparing the Duke, so Gilda offers her own life by being the next ‘victim’ to cross the path of the murderous Sparafucile, entering the building in disguise and being stabbed herself.
As the clock chimes midnight Rigolleto enters the inn to see a covered body on the floor. Satisfied that his revenge has been exacted, he goes to lift the body but hears the familiar voice of the Duke singing from upstairs. Throwing off the wraps he discovers that the body beneath is that of his daughter Gilda. Holding her in his arms he laments of the curse whilst Gilda apologises for her shame and promises to watch over him from heaven.
As Gilda dies in the arms of her father, the ‘curse’ reappears and stabs the Duke whilst being stabbed himself, symbolically ending the original curse of Count Ceprano.
The dark, sexual violence of this opera was not portrayed in the way which gave credence to the shame which Gilda was supposed to feel. A ‘shame’ large enough to accept death as ‘punishment’ was not potrayed and I was confused as to why she would allow herself to be killed. The change of character from the loyal but cruel Rigolleto into a shameful father, did not quite hit the mark in this adaptation where there was confusion on the stage rather than plot twists.
Whilst there were great vocals, this opera fell short of telling me the story without the aid of a pre-read! The set design was magnificent, and the live orchestra was – once again – an honour to hear. I enjoy a contemporary interpretation of an original and this one could be spectacular in bringing opera to newer audiences, but it lacks clarity and needs more work on performance to explain each character.
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Glyndebourne’s Rigoletto is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 13-16 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or call the box office on 0844 8717652.
Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK9 3NZ