Opera Australia’s enthralling revival of Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto

Since it was first performed in the Sydney Opera House in 1991, the late Elojah Moshinsky’s acclaimed production of Verdi’s Rigoletto returns to the stage. Rigoletto is one of the treasured gems of Opera Australia’s repertoire and its revival directed by Shane Placentino is nothing short of impressive.

Verdi’s sixteenth opera and is widely considered to be the first of his middle-period masterpieces. The opera is based on the 1832 play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo and despite serious backlash from censors, Rigoletto had a triumphant premier in 1851.

Rigoletto - Opera AustraliaRigoletto is an operatic tragedy. The story revolves around three main characters; the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s beloved daughter Gilda. Originally, Rigoletto was fashioned as an embittered man, cruelly put upon by his colleagues as he dragged himself around on canes. However, Revival Director Placentino has portrayed him as a less inflicted and more of a willing participant in the Duke’s court. The conflicted clown’s jokes border on venomous insults and stem from a desperate need to fit in. His treatment of his daughter Gilda, from a modern lens, seems hypocritical as he tries desperately to protect her from the atrocities that he is somewhat complicit in.

Typically, Rigoletto is played by an older man, embittered by his contempt for life – which makes Placentino’s casting of young Italian baritone Ernesto Petti surprising.  Despite is age, Petti is utterly convincing as the cynical clown weathered by life and then the protective and vengeful father. He showcases exceptional control of his rich and powerful voice when he tenderly sings to his daughter about her dead mother in Deh non parlare al misero and begs for the return of his kidnapped daughter in Cortigiani vil razza dannata. It is in Si vendetta, tremenda vendetta that Petti unleashes the full force of his incredible voice with thunderous calls for revenge interspersed with utter anguish. His emotion is palpable, giving the final scene a perfect end.

Rigoletto - Opera AustraliaRigoletto - Opera AustraliaIn both Petti’s pivotal moments he is accompanied by Australian-Mauritian soprano Stacey Alleaume as Gilda. Alleaume’s vocal prowess is on full display as her bright and polished voice delivers stellar top notes, clear expression and natural warmth. She provides coy lyricism in moments of vulnerability and piercing strength during the ensembles. Brazilian Tenor Atalla Ayan as the Duke of Mantua weaves a believable autocrat who lives by his own rules and treats women as disposable toys meant for his amusement. His strong and bold sound projected well in the central register. However, he seemed to be marred by a cold with higher notes. He began the iconic La donna e mobile robustly but seemed to fall short with the top B at the close.

Honourable mentions to Roberto Scandiuzzzi’s whose sonourous voice boomed with malevolent edge in the role of the assassin Sparafucile and Mezzo-soprano Sian Sharp who was a strong support as Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena. The Opera Australia was balanced and thrilled both on and offstage.

Set and Costume Designer Michael Yeargan spectacularly gives the audience a glimpse into the world of Rigoletto with the ingenious revolving set – reminiscent of a doll house. Characters are transported from a lavish palace ballroom to Rigoletto’s tiny dressing room, to his modest home and then finally to the sleazy squalor of Sparafucile’s Inn. The doll house staging also echoes the perceived role of woman at the time – as merely playthings for men.

Rigoletto - Opera AustraliaRigoletto - Opera AustraliaUnder the baton of Maestro Renato Palumbo the Opera Australia Orchestra executed Verdi’s complex score with ease. The orchestra’s musical momentum delighted audiences and proved Rigoletto is just as much about the incredible score as it is the story.

Verdi’s Rigoletto is a masterpiece with its depressing topicality, exceptional story, and phenomenal score. Although, the theme can feel like opera’s past more than its future – as one young female patron was heard claiming “Why would Gilda even do that, I would never do that for a man” – it is still impressive. Moshinsky production, revived by Shane Placentino is a treasured heirloom in Opera Australia’s repertoire and is a must-see for all opera lovers.

– Antoinette Milienos
Antoinette is a Journalist, Violinist, and chronic suffer of F.O.M.O (fear of missing out).

Rigoletto runs for approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one interval. The opera plays at Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House through to June 26. Buy tickets now. The venue is accessible.

Disclaimer: Antoinette Milienos was an invited guest of Opera Australia.
Photocred: Keith Saunders and Jeff Busby