Grip­ping jour­ney to the dark side

Scottish Daily Mail - - It’s Friday! - Re­view by i Tom Kyle

Rigo­letto (Theatre Royal, Glas­gow) Ver­dict: Im­moral­ity un­bri­dled

CURSES! Are they su­per­nat­u­rally pre­de­ter­mined and un­avoid­able? Or are they self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies, brought largely by the sup­posed vic­tims upon them­selves? This is one of the ques­tions an au­di­ence must ask it­self about Rigo­letto.

Don’t for­get that Verdi’s opera was con­ceived and cre­ated un­der the work­ing ti­tle of La maledi­zione (The Curse).

Is it a wronged fa­ther’s curse that sets Rigo­letto on his path to un­bear­able tragedy? Or does the fault lie in him­self? We can but try to glean the an­swers from Scot­tish Opera’s re­vival of its 2011 pro­duc­tion.

Rigo­letto is one of the three great op­eras Verdi com­posed in the early 1850s, along with Il trova­tore and La travi­ata. Some say they are the finest he ever pro­duced. Decades later, Verdi him­self called Rigo­letto the best of them all.

Un­like many op­eras we now re­gard as clas­sics, it en­joyed a triumphant pre­miere, at the Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, on March 11, 1851.

IT was the run-up that caused prob­lems. The Aus­trian cen­sor De Gorzkowski (the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire con­trolled North­ern Italy at the time) had been on the point of ban­ning the pro­duc­tion on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, call­ing it ‘a re­pug­nant ex­am­ple of im­moral­ity and ob­scene triv­i­al­ity’.

De­spite the opera’s suc­cess, Verdi had to be care­ful. Some sub­se­quent pro­duc­tions were even pre­sented un­der dif­fer­ent ti­tles; in­clud­ing, in­trigu­ingly for us, Clara de Perth.

It has been sug­gested the cen­sor had a pen­chant for re­lo­cat­ing un­set­tling sto­ries to Scot­land – where he sup­posed any­thing could, and prob­a­bly did, hap­pen. Thus, Rigo­letto had in a sense been to Scot­land even be­fore its first per­for­mance in this coun­try, at the Royal Colos­seum Theatre in Glas­gow on De­cem­ber 11, 1867.

The cur­rent pro­duc­tion is a thing of con­trasts: the opu­lence at the court of the Duke of Man­tua and the squalor of the tav­ern on the edge of town, where the hor­ri­fy­ing cli­max un­folds; un­worldly in­no­cence side by side with un­bri­dled im­moral­ity.

It is a dark, dark tale. This is per­haps best il­lus­trated when you con­sider that the only char­ac­ter with any sem­blance of a moral com­pass is a con­tract killer.

The only light in this sea of dark­ness is pro­vided by Gilda, vir­ginal daugh­ter of the ti­tle char­ac­ter, the hunch­backed court jester to the Duke. But her in­no­cence is such that she is vir­tu­ally oned­i­men­sional, a mere ci­pher of good­ness.

Dra­mat­i­cally, how­ever, she is cru­cial – and Nor­we­gian so­prano Lina John­son brings a vo­cal pu­rity to this purest of fig­ures. She con­vinces us that a con­vent girl who knows noth­ing of life can will­ingly sac­ri­fice her­self for love.

Not that her love is re­turned. In­deed, Rigo­letto is well nigh unique in all of grand opera, hav­ing no real love story at its core. The Duke for whom Gilda of­fers her own life cares for noth­ing but his own self­ish plea­sure.

Tenor Adam Smith cap­tures his char­ac­ter in a per­for­mance of per­fectly con­trolled vo­cal and dra­matic cyn­i­cism. At the first night, his jaun­tily sin­is­ter ren­di­tion of La donna e mo­bile brought the house down. But Rigo­letto re­volves around and re­lies on its ti­tle char­ac­ter. How is it pos­si­ble, one some­times won­ders, for a dis­abled fig­ure of fun who in­ad­ver­tently causes the hor­ri­ble death of his beloved daugh­ter to fail to evoke any sym­pa­thy in an au­di­ence?

Part of the an­swer lies in Rigo­letto’s ea­ger­ness to as­sist his mas­ter in the de­bauch­ing of courtiers’ wives and daugh­ters – and in mock­ingly mak­ing them more than aware of it. Part of it also lies in his creepy fix­a­tion with his daugh­ter’s vir­gin­ity. Gilda is the only thing he loves – but it is a per­verted love.

As Rigo­letto, Greek bari­tone Aris Ar­giris de­liv­ered a first-rate per­for­mance, de­spite ap­par­ently hav­ing been bat­tling a heavy cold for some days pre­vi­ously.

Veer­ing be­tween in­sid­i­ous grov­el­ling, ap­par­ent moral out­rage and a lust for vengeance, this morally de­crepit crea­ture was brought to un­com­fort­able life by Ar­giris, in a dis­play of vo­cal colour, power, oc­ca­sional joy and even a sadly mis­placed sen­ti­men­tal­ity that fooled no one.

His fi­nal ter­ri­ble scream of ut­ter hor­ror as he re­alised the maledi­zione of a wronged fa­ther had fallen upon him was a truly mem­o­rable end to a riv­et­ing op­er­atic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Rigo­letto by Giuseppe Verdi, Scot­tish Opera; Theatre Royal, Glas­gow, to­mor­row; His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, Novem­ber 1 and 3; Fes­ti­val Theatre, Ed­in­burgh, Novem­ber 9, 11, 15 and 17; Eden Court, In­ver­ness, Novem­ber 20, 22 and 24.

Con­trasts: Gilda and Rigo­letto

Doomed: Gilda with the Duke of Man­tua

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