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Selected Review


Opera

Rigoletto - Opera North

 

Rigoletto - Opera North

Opera North’s most recent production of Rigoletto sees the transfer of comparative dissimilarity and otherness of the traditional hunchback in the title role to a black man in Femi Elufowoju jr's interpretation. Expectations are challenged and the revelation nourishes the moral sensibility. A beleaguered and, indeed quite literally, cursed character, Rigoletto, the butt of jokes, and the jester, seems an overprotective father but in dreadfully hazardous circumstances given those whom he serves. A prima facie promiscuous and amoral ruling class as context is a highly current dramatic milieu. In Act I, scene two, the subtlety of highlighting other points of discriminatory injustice is writ large when we see Rigoletto is the only member of the group of kidnappers to be placed briefly under arrest. The paranoia of the outsider, largely powerless, was placed under the spotlight. A certain precarious fatalism therefore was the underlying theme as vengeance was played out.

In the title role, Eric Greene was cast. Dramatically speaking, the character’s uncertainty and precariousness within an implicitly fatalistic attitude came through because of the energy he brought to it. Desperation at times switched rapidly to and seamlessly to the nervous irreverence of the jester in the first Act. It was a stunning performance, which at times encompassed caring father. The party of the first Act at the Ducal palace, at which a painting depicting marriage as though to mock the institution amid the debauchery is paraded amongst the assembled, has many contemporary references to indicate time. The action is framed within large-scale neon strip lighting, which is later engaged to create the flashing of a lightning storm. A cycling food delivery driver arrives on stage. A hog roast is wheeled in for delectation. Place is less obviously indicated until the police arrive: they are British. Vocally, Greene was highly expressive and the interpretation compounded the dramatic one.

When Rigoletto, the jester, is seen to mock Monterone, whose daughter has been molested by the Duke and the curse is issued, it was issued by none other than Sir Willard White. A fearsome lesson in stentorian declamatory authority was the very pleasing outcome. His ghost appeared at the end of the finale to Act 3 when the tragedy of said curse was completed. Jasmine Habersham was cast in the role of Rigoletto's daughter, Gilda. She was brilliant in the role. She convinced of a daughter of an overprotective father and then ironically the victim of the horrors of the world because of her sheltered naivety. The aria, Caro nome was very moving, the thoughts of her supposed beloved a soothing and at times uplifting sonic unguent via impressive coloratura verve. Her chamber, complete with bodyguard, was bizarrely decorated complete with life size zebra and hanging perched toucan.

Roman Arndt gave the role of a Duke an effortless charm and convinced of polished ulterior malice. He was quite the chancer. An excellent musical rendering throughout spoke of a well warmed voice and with great fluid agility: an extremely versatile voice. La donna e mobile is a heavily anticipated and popular aria to which he brought immense energy but without strain. This effortlessness is a gift. How appropriately cast.

The role of Sparafucile was provided by Callum Thorpe and an excellent rendering. Highly sinister in dramatic action and deed, the complete character was reinforced with a sonorous and earthy bass that was very tightly controlled. Across from him, Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena was given by Alyona Abramova. Both performances were impeccable in giving an impression of seediness and in being contingent upon the realm of low life.

As usual, the chorus of Opera North, who were engaged for ensemble work were a delight to behold and to the ear. The Orchestra of Opera North under the direction of Garry Walker maintained their usual high standard especially in the upper strings.

Overall, the production, which contained this high standard of performance, was a monumental success given the topicality of the concerns addressed. The performances compounded and supported the points about identity being made and allowed them to be afforded the seriousness they deserve.

Daniel Potts

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