“Rigoletto” – New Zealand Opera – 7 June 2012: a triumph of set design and casting

For those of you who know the opera well and think that you won’t be impressed or find anything interesting in this production, trust me on this one and go and see it. The set design and direction by Richard Roberts and Lindy Hume are stunning. This modern production of Rigoletto shows exactly how a story with origins dating back two centuries can be made relevant for the here and now.

While Verdi’s original libretto was based on Victor Hugo’s “Le Roi s’amuse” published in 1832, for this production we are transported into an alternative present, a palatial stage with a video wall, champagne on tap and plenty women for the Duke who will bonk anything attractive in sight. The Duke is surrounding by his entourage who are slick in snappy double-breasted suits (except for the two cardinals and the military officers) and appropriately slick hairstyles. Rigoletto, the deformed fool and odd man out, serves at the Duke’s pleasure, taunting and baiting the people around him for the amusement of the Duke and himself. But his enemies are keen to see him put down. Which side of evil will prevail or will good win out ? Well, if you don’t know the story, you’ll have to go and see it to find out.

Visually, the sets are very evocative and the transitions very well-timed indeed – it made following the storyline and characters very easy indeed. Contrast the Duke’s grand marbled quarters with Rigoletto’s own home, a throwback to the 60s in formica pastel décor with Lay-Z-Boy chair in an odd green just for effect and the small, skanky bordello which is home to Sparafucile and Maddalena – so skanky, the only thing missing is the smell. This one would not have got through the censors so prevalent in Verdi’s time. In fact, some people might think a PG-13 rating might be warranted for Act 3 !

The vocal casting has been very well thought through and very pleasing to the ear – Warwick Fyfe is excellent as the tormented (and tormenting) fool Rigoletto and Emma Pearson is a more than equal foil as his naïve and trusting daughter Gilda. Together, they provide the strongest singing in the cast both individually and in their respective arias. Rafael Rojas was apparently suffering from an illness but got through the arias we know and love by the Duke of Mantua. Ashraf Sewailam was a very vocally and physically attractive Sparafucile and Kristin Darragh in fishnet stockings, leather jacket and lingerie grabs instant attention. Oh, she sings the role of Maddalena well also. For the short period that he is on stage, Rodney McCann is good as Count Monterone although I note that some critics attending the Wellington performances thought he was a bit weak. That did not seem to be a problem this evening. The Chapman Tripp (all male) chorus provided good support and conductor Wyn Davies, well known to New Zealand audiences, had the Auckland Philharmonia responding well in Verdi’s colourful and emotional score.

Doubtless opening night was attended well in part due to the NBR function prior to the show. Hopefully, word of the very high quality of this production will get around in time for all of the performances to be equally well attended.

Next review: tomorrow ! NZSO with French organist Olivier Latry.

About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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