Rigoletto Scottish Opera at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, October 18 What a difference seven years make. When Matthew Richardson’s staging was new in May 2011, the focus was on the brilliant theatrical tricks he and his designer, Jon Morrell, played to inspire the audience’s imagination: curtains, mannequins, peepshow doors, stage boxes, all creating a sense of voyeurism while remaining true to Verdi’s dramatic genius.
■ Adam Smith (Duke), Sioned Gwen Davies (Maddalena), Lina Johnson (Gilda) and Aris Argiris (Rigoletto) at Scottish Opera
Now we have #MeToo. Where Rigoletto was once viewed as a riveting drama pure and simple, with values rooted in the past, it has emerged as a contemporary study of sexual politics, in which men treat women as biddable objects, to be manipulated and controlled. The Duke does it (to other men’s susceptible wives). Sparafucile does it (to his subservient sister). Even the hunchback jester does it (to his infantilized daughter). This is not merely a portrait of sexual villainy, it has become an indictment of all men who abuse their position of power—in the home and workplace today as much as the Mantuan court of yesteryear.
Did this signify a subtle change in Richardson’s approach since 2011, or a crass manipulation of a heart-wrenching musical drama? Neither. Scottish Opera’s revival demonstrated the breadth of Richardson’s interpretation, and his gift for letting the audience draw their own conclusions rather than ramming home a narrow viewpoint. The drama succeeded on its own terms—on Verdi’s terms—and it is to Richardson’s credit that he drew performances from his new cast every bit as powerful as before.
The Greek baritone Aris Argiris put heart and soul into the title character, and although he was recovering from an announced infection, he sang with enough gusto to confirm his V erdian credentials. On opening night, however, vocal honours were split between Lina Johnson’s ideally crisp, musical and watchable Gilda (this Norwegian soprano deserves to go far) and David Shipley’s dignified Sparafucile, making a very commendable virtue of the sustained low F at the end of his opening scene.
Adam Smith’s Duke had the swagger and the notes but not the seductive timbre, while Sioned Gwen Davies contributed a promising Maddalena. Stephen Gadd (Monterone), Alexey Gusev (Marullo) and Bethan Langford (Giovanna) led a strong line of comprimarios. Orchestra and chorus responded well to Rumon Gamba’s tub-thumping approach, which may not mark him as a Verdi stylist but at least revealed him as a man of the theatre. andrew clark
Opera, December 2018