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An Electrifying Production

Verdi's 'Rigoletto' from Opera North,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Opera North's current season puts Verdi's Rigoletto (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 15 November 2006) back-to-back with Britten's Peter Grimes, and the parallels, at least in these productions, are striking. The two central characters, outsiders torn between wanting to belong and contempt for their surroundings, try to channel a capacity for love in the most clumsily inappropriate way. And Rigoletto's world of macho posturing, where women are generally treated with possessive contempt, is not a million miles from Grimes's Borough.

Charles Edwards' production of Rigoletto gives us seedy, corrupt world of rootless drifters unable to look beyond the next high. Rigoletto and hit-man-for-hire Sparafucile both live in caravans with their female companions/accomplices/prisoners, daughter Gilda and sister Maddalena respectively. 'Pari siamo' ('We are alike', as Rigoletto observes) indeed.

Jonathan Summers was in rich, powerful voice in the title role, full of self-loathing; the bitterness of his Act 1 monologue was compelling. In his caretaker's overalls and thick-rimmed spectacles he is an obvious misfit among the Duke's fashionable entourage. His Act 2 plea for Gilda to be returned to him was almost painful to witness in its abjectness. The production gives him a limp rather than a hump. (Why was the reference to a hump retained in the English titles?)

He is also capable of tenderness in his duets with Henriette Bonde-Hanen's Gilda, a touching but un-saccharine portrayal of a young woman both fascinated and alarmed by the first onset of emotional maturity. The mezzo-ish shade of her lower register suggested more to the character than just a simple ingenue. During 'Caro nome' she shed her dowdy dress and cardigan and put on a party frock. In Act 3, after the scare of her kidnap by the Duke's cronies, she was back in her dowdy clothes -- at Rigoletto's insistence, or her own recoil back to emotional safety?

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Copyright © 21 November 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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