Scottish Opera: Rigoletto – Festival Theatre

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi 

Librettist: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: Matthew Richardson

Conductor: Rumon Gamba

Seduction, tangled with an overbearing father all play a part in the turmoil of Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester. The 1851 libretto opera has been revived by the Scottish Opera following Matthew Richardson’s 2011 production. Now, fully escaping its historical censorship, Rigoletto can serve to entertain, whilst awakening our attitudes to morality, women and objectification.

Women are the scattered playthings of men in Verdi’s Rigoletto. An integral aspect is the way in which they are rag dolled around.  Female mannequins hoisted around as inanimate dance partners for the courtiers. Their use insightful, hollow, perfectly shaped woman who serve no purpose other than to dance, lay with and make no comment. Their torn husks scattered amidst the dregs of the Duke’s licentious pursuits. For what may seem a small aesthetic choice, it speaks volumes. Whilst they make grand martyrdoms – there are no winners in the courts of women. Men, for all their follies, are both victor and victim.

Skulking amidst the street lamps, Jon Morrell’s design coupled with Robert B Dickson’s revived lighting strikes a noir chord. The long coats, shadowed faces as eyes glint in the distance, give Rigoletto a new setting to play with. To describe the setting as minimalist would be too simplistic, conveying a voyeuristic tone. Sharp contrasting angles bring us further into the feel of monochrome cinema, in particular, the likes of The Third Man. Endless doorways ajar, enough to peak. Or better yet, a black drop with a sketched chalk doorframe – subtlety which compliments, rather than robs the light from the other components.

Enough about the aesthetics or themes of the production, time to focus on the majesty before us. Oh, not the vocals, though these are sublime. No, what I’m talking about is the Scottish Opera Orchestra. Channelling Verdi’s composition to the small interludes of jovial light-heartedness – just as much as the vocals, the music tells our tale.

It remains, of course, to comment that yes – vocally, Scottish Opera has a wealth of talent. Our trio of leads – Rigoletto the hunchbacked jester, the Duke of Mantua and the doe-eyed Gilda – daughter of Rigoletto. The mastery of their voices is evident, though Aris Argiris and Lina Johnson find the audience in their hands quicker than Adam Smith’s Duke. Sorrow in the eyes of Rigoletto is as clear as his antics, particularly in the crushing finale as Gilda’s soft tones whimper into the darkness. It takes a touch too long though for our malevolent Duke to make that switch into an operatic villain. Though the moment he struts out La donna è mobile we are hooked.

Our Eton-esque courtiers in their ‘pranks’ to steal away Rigoletto’s mistress conjure up the most poignant imagery this evening. Fearful in its depiction, but strikingly that we still laugh. The lecherous passing of her body, twiddling fingers ready for a feel. For them, this absent woman is simply a gag to be played, her assault and kidnapping all to serve a man’s humiliation – not her own. As Johnson carries the aria in a sublime manner, hooked beaks of the masques protrude in darkness, as her predators begin to assemble outside the window.

Richardson’s interpretation of Rigoletto serves more so than its 2011 conception to highlight the discarded attitudes towards consent, women and human morality. With the highest offices in the land endorsing the attitudes present in a mid-19th-century opera, it’s not shocking its dark tones are still appreciated. Scottish Opera has managed to maintain their stamp, bringing their wall-breaking aesthetics to the capital with magnanimous vocals.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Photo Credit: Richard Campbell


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