Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2011

This was a terrific performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto in a simple but very effective staging. The set was essentially two large shipping containers, one serving principally as Rigoletto’s residence and the other as Sparafucile’s tavern.

Rigoletto after the abduction, all photos by Fritz Curzon

The first scene, of libidinous fun, with oligarchs in black tie and sexy girls in red slit skirts, worked well and never went over the top, and Monterone’s entrance and curse were powerfully done. It’s only a small role, but William Robert Allenby played and sang it for all it was worth. He was in good company with Jaewoo Kim as a stylish Duke with a beautiful voice. His soliloquy at the start of Act II showed real longing, if only of a temporary nature, yet he also managed the insouciance one expects of this libertine. His convincing charm to the ladies made it entirely understandable that Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, and Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena should want to save his life. These darker characters, Sparafucile and Maddalena, who are willing to bend to Rigoletto’s vengeance were convincingly performed by Graeme Broadbent and Patricia Orr.

Gilda and Rigoletto

Rigoletto himself was brilliantly sung and performed by Robert Poulton. He didn’t overdo the nastiness of this character, as sometimes happens, yet his determination to take revenge came over very well when he makes the fatal mistake of telling his daughter to go home alone, after showing her the Duke’s real character. He also showed the softer side of his own character in dialogues with his adored Gilda, and Julia Sporsén sang her beautifully, very ably portraying this young woman’s emotional state in a virtual scream at the end of Act II when she admits that the Duke betrayed her but still pleads for his pardon.

Maddalena and the Duke

The production by Lindsay Posner, with designs by Tom Scutt, had some unusual and rather effective features. In the tavern scene of Act III, Sparafucile is watching football on television, and when the Duke bursts into La donna è mobile the picture suddenly changes to Pavarotti singing the same aria. The Duke grabs the remote control, presses the off-button and carries on, using the remote as if it’s a microphone — just the right point for a lighter moment. Then in the final scene when Rigoletto opens the sack to find his daughter inside she appears on top of the shipping container that served as their house, giving us a voice disembodied from the dead body in the sack. It’s a clever touch, because it always seems rather odd that Gilda can still be alive in the sack that Sparafucile hands over, let alone having the strength to sing.

Excellent conducting by Stuart Stratford with the City of London Sinfonia, and this wonderful production with its fine cast can still be seen until August 13 — for details click here.

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