This is a double first for me tonight. My first watching of Rigoletto by Verdi and my first experience of an Ellen Kent production. I am pleased to say that neither disappointed me. The story is one of tragedy as Court Jester Rigoletto endures the humiliation of his work at the court of the womanising Duke of Mantua. At court, Rigoletto mocks the aged Count Monterone as he tries to avenge his daughter's lost honour with the Duke. Monterone places a curse on the Duke and Rigoletto. With a few twists in the plot, Rigoletto's daughter Gilda unknowingly meets and falls in love with the Duke as he pretends to be a poor student. Gilda is kidnapped by the courtiers and taken to the Duke for amusement. In despair, Rigoletto arranges with the assassin Sparafucile to have the Duke killed. As in all classic tales of tragedy though, things do not go to plan and unknown to him his daughter sacrifices herself for the duke and Rigoletto finds himself holding the body of his dying daughter instead of his intended victim. An obviously very short overview of the story, but all there is room for here.
Ellen Kent's Rigoletto is only here at The Playhouse in Edinburgh for one night, with La Traviata and Madama Butterfly following the next two nights. This is really an Eastern European production from Ellen Kent and it is great to see and hear performers from this part of the world and a great reminder that opera is a truly global art form enjoyed by millions in many countries. Music is by members of the Orchestra of the National Opera & Ballet Theatre of Moldova.
Even though this is my first visit to Rigoletto, I have of course heard the famous "La Donna e Mobile" and this is powerfully performed tonight by Giorgio Meladze (tenor) playing the role of The Duke of Mantua. The lead role of Rigoletto is wonderfully played by Vladimir Dragos (baritone) and he brings that touch of pathos to the stage that is needed for this role. The part of his daughter Gilda is played tonight by Maria Tonina (soprano) and listening to her was a pleasure. Fine performances were also put in by Iurie Maimescu as Sparafucile and Zarui Vardenean as Maddalena (his sister).
Everyone singing on stage tonight put in a great performance and my omission of mentioning them here is no reflection on them, it is just that this opera rises or falls on the three main characters of Rigoletto, Gilda and The Duke.
This is a full costume period opera with some interesting sets (particularly as the sets are only there for one evening). The opening scene does give some impression of the debauchery of the Duke's court with some mild nudity on stage. We also have two Royal greyhounds and a wonderful Golden Eagle on stage at one point. It was also nice to see the company collecting funds tonight for a local retired greyhounds charity.
This is a staging that I imagine is fairly close to what the original would have been and Ellen Kent productions have again succeeded in their goal to bring opera to a wide audience at an affordable price.
I look forward to tomorrow's performance of La Traviata
Review by Tom King