Rigoletto,
Composer: Verdi
Producer: Welsh National Opera

Director: James Macdonald
Venue: Welsh National Opera touring until November 30
Cast: David Junghoon Kim, Simon Crosby Buttle, Paula Greenwood, Mark S Doss, Alastair Moore, Martin Lloyd, Eddie Wade, James Platt, Haegee Lee, Sian Meinir, Francesca Saracino, George Newton-Fitzgerald, Emma Carrington
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes

 

When first performed in 1851, Rigoletto was explosive because of its implied criticism of a corrupt king.

In pursuit of a comparable political edge, director James Macdonald transfers Verdi’s tragedy from Renaissance Mantua to a fictitious 1960s White House.

That in turn evokes today’s morally bankrupt politics, where the worst villains get away with any amount of duplicity and almost everyone behaves in way so far removed from commonsense, it ought to be fictional.  The human tragedy is all-the-more agonising because those who fall victim to it are relatively noble.

At the Birmingham Hippodrome stage of the WNO tour, the White House link was rendered dangerously close to farce by a malfunction with the curtain depicting it.

But even that is arguably appropriate and recalls the very first production: Verdi had to thrust the singer performing Rigoletto on to the stage because he was so reluctant to face the public with his disfiguring hump.  The audience concluded his stumbling entry was deliberate.

The assumption was testimony to the assuredness of Verdi’s skill by the time he wrote Rigoletto and to a talent so robust it’s hard for anything to destroy its power.

The drama is deeply layered as classic plot devices, such as overhearing, misunderstanding and mistakes of identity crank up the tension, but it’s the innovative musicality that is the crowning triumph and this production’s voices do full justice to that.

The emotional height of the production is the duet between Mark S Doss’s rich-voiced Rigoletto and Haegee Lee as his perfectly cast pure and pure-voiced daughter Gilda, who soars to angelic heights.  For a sustained interlude of joy, they are happy in the comfort they give each other, even in the bleak wire cage of Robert Innes Hopkins’ set that serves to reinforce our sense of their vulnerability.

No sooner is Rigoletto’s twisted back turned than Gilda is singing another duet with David Junghoon Kim as the dissolute, but honeyed Duke and we dare to hope he might mend his ways.

Instead, he simply gets the best tunes, singing with great swagger, as if to convince himself, and supreme irony “La Donna e mobile” (Woman is fickle) when Gilda is absurdly constant.

At every junction, the characters take the wrong turning, allowing the fabulously deep James Platt as Sparafucile to ply his evil trade.  Any other outcome would be far less dramatic and politically Utopian.

Barbara Lewis © 2019.

WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3499.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7705.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7832.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7959.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Sian Meinir, Giovanna, Marina Monzo, Gilda and Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7442.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Alastair Moore, Marullo and Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3709.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 David Junghoon Kim, The Duke and Simon Crosby Buttle, Borsa. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3351.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 David Junghoon Kim, The Duke. Photcredit Richard Hubert Smith 3774.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Eddie Wade, Monterone. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3973.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Emma Carrington, Maddalena and David Junghoon Kim, The Duke. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 8048.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Marina Monzo, Gilda and David Junghoon Kim, The Duke. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7536.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Marina Monzo, Gilda and Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3985.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Marina Monzo, Gilda. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7435.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto and James Platt, Sparafucile. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7237.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto and Marina Monzo, Gilda. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3954.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto and Marina Monzo, Gilda. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7330.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto, Marina Monzo, Gilda, Emma Carrington, Maddalena and David Junghoon Kim, The Duke. RHS 4084.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3499.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7705.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7832.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7959.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Sian Meinir, Giovanna, Marina Monzo, Gilda and Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 7442.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Alastair Moore, Marullo and Mark S Doss, Rigoletto. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3709.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 David Junghoon Kim, The Duke and Simon Crosby Buttle, Borsa. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3351.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 David Junghoon Kim, The Duke. Photcredit Richard Hubert Smith 3774.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Eddie Wade, Monterone. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 3973.
WNO Rigoletto 2019 Emma Carrington, Maddalena and David Junghoon Kim, The Duke. Photocredit Richard Hubert Smith 8048.