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Rigoletto Northern Ireland Opera at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, September 30 Co-produced with Ópera Nacional de Chile, where it was first seen in 2017, Northern Ireland Opera’s contemporary updating of Rigoletto chimed uncomfortably but acutely with issues highlighted by the current #MeToo campaign.

There was much of interest in a production—described by the director Walter Sutcliffe as ‘a journey into Rigoletto’s mind’—that delved beneath surface concerns of power and status to probe and pick at the fragile, fracturing interior lives of its titular jester, his daughter and their aristocrat nemesis.

Dwarfed by the imposing mobile slabs of Kaspar Glarner’s towering monolithic set, its dark, dangerous corners voyeuristically spotlit or washed into clear sight by Wolfgang Goebbel’s searching lighting, Sebastian Catana’s underplayed, slow-burning Rigoletto seemed all the more a figure of domestic dimensions and self-lacerating foibles. Taking his interpretative cue from Sutcliffe’s Freudian-accented approach and equipped with a fine, flexible, forceful and expressive baritone, he was also an immediate and recognizable figure.

If the casting of Catana was something of a coup so, too, was that of Nadine Koutcher (2015 Cardiff Singer of the World) as Gilda, and Davide Giusti (second prizewinner in the 2017 Operalia competition) as the Duke. Koutcher’s Gilda was a poignant portrait of blossoming innocence cut short, with a lyrical, liquid tone that flared into aching coloratura intensity. Giusti’s Duke was louche and laid back, perhaps too much so at times where more power and punch was needed.

Strong support from Fleur Barron’s manipulative Maddalena, Taras Berezhansky’s menacing Sparafucile and John Porter’s bristling Borsa was occasionally masked by a distractingly animated chorus that sang with unrelenting gusto. In the pit, Gareth Hancock drew pleasing detail and involving forward momentum from the Ulster Orchestra, albeit not always with the requisite passion.

Cavils aside, this was a strong showing from a still-young company with bags of potential as it transitions into a new phase of its development. michael quinn

■  Sebastian Catana in the title role and Nadine Koutcher as Gilda in Northern Ireland Opera’s ‘Rigoletto’

Opera, December 2018

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