Rigoletto - simply riveting

Eric Scott reviews Opera Queensland's final production for 2009

Caption: John Bolton Wood as Rigoletto and Emma Matthews as his daughter Gilda.

THIS latest Opera Queensland production was simply riveting.

Verdi’s score was mean, moody and magnificent and was matched by faultless singing from the principals and chorus.

The story was easy to follow, the Queensland Orchestra was right on form and the setting and costumes were as opulent as ever. I haven’t enjoyed a night at the opera so much since Madama Butterfly in 2007.

The opera runs for nearly three hours with intervals, but the action kept the audience on the edge of their seats all night. It was a quirky, edgy production filled with twists and turns and heavily accented on characters and drama:  Almost Tim Burtonesque in its darkness. It was production that had stomach tightening suspense and created genuine empathy for the characters good and bad.

I don’t think there was moment during the whole that my mind started to wander.

Rigoletto is the hunchback who plays court jester to the womanising Duke of Mantua. He has an acid tongue and is bitter about his deformity and so, with the Duke’s protection, he rips his enemies apart verbally, so he is pretty well hated and feared.

But, like everyone in the plot, he is not exactly what he seems to be. He has his beautiful daughter Gilda, secretly locked away in a city house to keep her away from the cruel and hedonistic mob who knows live in the world outside. His deep love for his child is genuine and selfless

But he is seen entering the house several times and also the young daughter is spotted too. So the courtiers and fops assume he has a mistress and plan to kidnap the girl and hand her over to the Duke.

Of course all the plans go wrong, murder is planned and executed, but the lack of moral scruples in this place in time are loose in every part of society from rich to poor and so Rigoletto, who planned a murderous revenge for the ruination of his daughter, is double crossed. Gilda is killed and this leads to a duet finale between Rigoletto and Gilda that is really wonderful to hear.

Australian star soprano Emma Matthews plays Gilda. She has an amazing vocal technique and a voice that hits the roof, even when she is singing lying down. Her tone is so pure that the soft notes of the dying woman just soar effortlessly through the auditorium.

She is an excellent actor and pretty too. She fitted Gilda’s naive character perfectly – and she sang perfectly in synch with both baritone John Bolton Wood and American tenor Steven Harrison.

She was wonderful in the first duet with Gilda her father and the pair built the emotion of parent and child beautifully. This was followed the duet with the disguised Duke and what a change of pace as she flirted and swooned like a lovesick teenager ss she gave in to the Duke’s seemingly sincere, but baseless declarations of love.

John Bolton Wood has a lot of top roles to his name, but in this one as the viper-tongued clown was just marvellous.

He played the role in such a way that the audience could understand why he turned into such a hated man in society. But we loved him because he loved his daughter to distraction and did everything in his power to keep her safe. His singing was magnificent too.

Steven Harrison was the Duke and it was really great to have a tenor up there that was powerful enough to top the orchestra without straining. I thoroughly enjoyed his singing. He played the Duke as the feckless, bored and completely immoral young man, whose purpose in life was the get drunk, bed women and abuse his power.

And Harrison played the role with terrific understanding of the character. He sang the pop aria La Donna e Mobile, in such a world-weary way that it gave new meaning to the piece.

There was also a great performance from Operatunity Oz winner, bass baritone David Parkin, as the killer for hire Sparafucile. His duet with Rigoletto was powerful and tinged with evil. He added real darkness to an already dark production.

Michael Yeargan’s sets were breathtaking and he used the Lyric revolve cleverly to create brilliant atmospheres from the gaiety of he ballroom party night to the dark alleys of thieves and murderers. And Robert Bryan’s lighting plot enhanced the production even more.

It is a great end to the Opera Queensland Year.

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