Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal until 27 Oct (afterwards touring Scotland)
The tragedy of Rigoletto is essentially a story about how women suffer from male quarrels. The Duke of Mantua, a notorious Casanova, his jester Rigoletto, two cuckolded husbands, and a court of leering men all have their own agendas in which women are (quite literally) treated as props. The only man with a hint of consistent morale is ironically the contract killer Sparafucile. The main victim of all the scheming and seducing is Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda who just falls in love with the wrong man. This leads to abduction, possibly rape, and murder. A minimalistic set design and neutral costumes effectively support the plot without distracting from the wonderful music.
As an avid fan of opera in general and Verdi in particular, I know it is always a bad sign when someone steps onto the stage before the curtain has even lifted. Sometimes the announcement of a singer struggling with a cold seems to be merely symbolic, but in the case of Aris Argiris singing the title role of Rigoletto it was unfortunately accurate. Even though his comedic acting was impeccable and most of his arias and duets are beautiful, you can hear the strain of illness every now and then. But you are able to tell that he has a wonderful, smooth voice. Completely healthy, he might have excelled.
Unrivalled star of the evening, however, is Lina Johnson as Gilda, Rigoletto’s innocent daughter. Her voice effortlessly changes from angelic to desperate giving appropriate depth to the tragic character she portrays. The object of her love, the Duke of Mantua played by Adam Smith, unfortunately cannot quite live up to her quality. His voice lacks volume which becomes especially clear in chorus scenes. Also, his solo arias could be stronger, but a single member in the audience seemed to differ, giving loud Bravo shouts throughout the evening. Ironically, the tenor’s performance was stronger lying down for the reprise of his famous aria “La donna é mobile” (Women are fickle).
Overall, Verdi’s music is enthralling with many popular melodies that will stick with you long after the evening ended. The ensemble has several strong performers and even the weaker links don’t spoil the enjoyment. It is a poetic way of explaining why men are the worst.
If you are new to opera and feel like it might be too complicated, I would recommend investing £4 for the programme. It not only explains the (overly complicated) plot, but also includes a very helpful section about what to listen out for. This could definitely help you get more from the evening.
[Image: Scottish Opera]