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Opera North: Rigoletto

John Byrne

If you stroll around the ever-expanding Salford Quays complex these days, you will see a very different Media City to the one when the Lowry Theatre first opened more than 20 years ago. BBC and ITV studios, hotels, bars, restaurants, apartment blocks, trams and an outlet shopping centre have transformed the area and it is pleasing to see the architecturally eccentric Lowry Theatre still holding its own as the major attraction of the area. As such, it is a perfect place for Opera North to hold a week long residency, culminating in a wonderful new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto on March 12th.

Such a theatre deserves a production to match and Opera North really raised the bar with their revamp of one of Verdi’s most gripping works. With a curious range of modern and ancient costumes, unexpected jokes (such as a bicycle pizza delivery), and a set that began with a monochrome cube and moved through vibrant colours, ending up next to the burnt-out wreck of a car!

Whatever the conceptual intentions, it was the performances that captured the interest. After a stirring performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem, conductor Garry Walker and the orchestra beautifully supported the singers and realised Verdi’s inventiveness with gusto. In a very strong cast (including the 75-year-old Sir Willard White deliciously dishing out the curse as Count Monterone) it was Eric Greene’s multi-faceted depiction of Rigoletto that dominated the stage on his every entry. A magnificent stage presence and a voice that reflected every conceivable emotion. For my mind though, the performance I will remember most is Jasmine Habersham as Gilda. What a voice! Ping on accuracy, power, variety and, in the duets with Greene, the most telling moments in the whole opera.

Elsewhere, Roman Arndt swaggered magnificently as the Duke, Callum Thorpe exuded pure menace as Sparafucile and Alyona Abramova excelled as his gold-digging sister, Maddalena. Super lighting effects, particularly for the storm and some terrific movement and singing from the men’s chorus added to the quality. Opera North are back at their best.

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