Some operas stand the test of time. Joe Verdi’s Rigoletto (essentially a fable about a court jester who gets his comeuppance, and then some) first saw light of day, or starlight of evening, on March 11, 1851, at La Fenice, Venice. It was a Tuesday. Some productions stand the test of time, too. Opera Australia’s Rigoletto was first performed on June 8, 1991, directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Revival director, Cathy Dadd, has resurrected it divinely.
Underpinning its excellence is the Opera and Ballet Orchestra, responding flawlessly to Giovanni Reggioli’s disciplined, taut baton and, somehow, presumably by dint of his extraction, elegantly distilling the intoxicating elixir of romance which infuses the manuscript in a way one can barely imagine a non-Italian doing, any more than a Toyota, with matching or even superior specs, can outclass an Alfa.
Then, as the curtains part and rise (which they do simultaneously, as if to open a window in to a different world), one’s jaw hits the floor, in sheer astonishment, at the scale, fidelity and burnishment of the set, virtutally unrivalled on any Australian stage: the Duke of Mantua’s palace looks for all the world like the real thing.
Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey
Choose what you pay, from $99.
The pleasure intensifies, thanks to possibly the most evenly-matched cast of singers this season: Alan Opie’s expansive, opulent pipes at the forefront, seeming to mimic his frame, as the voice of Rigoletto. Happily, he seems to have recovered from the dreaded lergy that’s plagued the ensemble since opening night. Regrettably, though, it’s almost inevitably been shared with the less invincible-looking Paul O’Neill, causing the odd vocal mishap. Despite this, he shone radiantly. One can but imagine what he’s capable of when on his mettle since, as it was, there were moments when he put me in mind of Pavarotti; not, perhaps, in terms of sheer power, but certainly moving musicality.
Count Monterone isn’t the plumpest of roles, but Gennadi Dubinsky makes it memorable, if not unforgettable, thanks to his superb, world-class delivery. Overwhelming crowd favourite, Emma Matthews, enthralled with her versatility, just-so dynamic sensibility, even if, here-and-there, her distressed expressions looked a little melodramatic, in an almost comical way. Then again, this is nothing if not melodrama, even if it derives from the inestimable Victor Hugo.
Elizabeth Campbell impressed in making the difficult transition from dowdy, corrupt housekeeper and chaperone, Giovanna, to busty siren, Maddalena, who plays opposite David Parkin, as Sparafucile, whose resonant baritone probably shivered the timbers of passing ferries.
Stage managers Ben Lynch, Kylie McOmish and Marita Petherbridge deserve a Helpmann, or something, for manipulating a massive set, with multiple facades and countless props, like clockwork, effecting a sweeping, cinematic grandeur worthy of David Lean, the vision for which comes from designer Michael Yeargan and, secondarily, lighting designer, Robert Bryan, whose setups are faultlessly realised, by Colin Alexander.
Verdi and his librettist, Piave (the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice of their day), must’ve had a keen sense of audience toleration, for the acts are broken-down optimally: finger sandwiches after act one; Cornetto, before the finale.
My only parting, politically-correct (well, medically-correct) observation would be that, rather than self-indulge in prolonged pleading toward the end, Rigoletto would’ve been better-served to iPhone for an ambo.
Still, we can be thankful any casualties weren’t members of the contemporary constabulary, in which case this musical would’ve proved considerably longer.
The details: Rigoletto plays the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until November 4. Tickets on the Opera Australia website.