Visceral Verdi

Rigoletto (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

March 15 – 29

There is something about opera that makes it a complete theatrical experience. Its stories are big, its staging is large and everything simultaneously bombards the audience. The grand orchestra, the powerful voices, and the visual spectacle of the extravagant sets and opulent costumes all combine to create an encounter beyond theatrical compare.

Verdi’s popular opera, “Rigoletto” is the perfect vehicle for a visceral experience. In its misogynistic power-play themes, it resonates beyond its 1851 origin, particularly when the debauched action is transferred to the excessive experience of scandalous Italian politician, entrepreneur, media tycoon and criminal defendant Silvio Berlusconi.

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The extravagance of this contemporary setting is immediate. The opera opens with the powerful Duke of Mantua holding court, surrounded by police, politicians and skimpily-dressed prostitutes. And from the opulence of this marbled majesty, the show continues with Richard Roberts’ impressive cinematic staging contributing significantly to this credible context. Scenery is on a revolving platform that allows the audience to simultaneously experience both interior and exterior scenes. From the banality of a suburban kitchen, to the seediness of an underworld bar, sets are enhanced by an attention to detail that illuminates rather than distracts from the spectacle, and allows full appreciation of the Lyric Theatre stage’s depth and possibilities. The use of video screens adds interest and atmospheric lighting contributes to the distinctness of the story’s worlds.

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But this is opera, which means it is about the music more than the vision. And, in the case of “Rigoletto”, the music is immediately engaging and doesn’t let you go until the very end. This is an opera packed full of melody, including the signature ‘La donna e’ Mobile’. Opera Queensland Chorus and Queensland Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Johannes Fritzsch) bring Verdi’s exciting score and famous chorus to vivid life with a wonderful string section adding both pep to party scenes and drama to Act Two’s tragic outcome.

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“Rigoletto” also features some of outstanding vocal performances. Rosario La Spina plays the part of roguish rascal The Duke of Mantua with relish. Michael Lewis, in the title role, captures the pathos of court jester Rigoletto, yet balances this beautifully in some tender duets with Elena Xanthoudakis as his daughter Gilda. Gleefully giddy as a girl in love, Xanthoudakis steals the show, with her Act One solo standing as a highlight.  Of note, too is the richly sinister performance of Jud Arthur (in his Opera Queensland debut) as assassin Sparafucile, Indeed, all the singers complement their vocal excellence with credible dramatic performances, contributing to the audience curtain cries of “brava”.

It is rituals such as this that endear the opera as an experience. And for all of its red light raciness, Opera Queensland’s take on the enduring classic is both captivating in its escapism and thrilling in its theatricality. As it should be, the subject is immense; Verdi’s work is both an observation of flawed humanity and a comment on the consequences of corrupt power and injustice. Opera Queensland is to be commended for its magnificent in ensuring the enduring appeal of this masterpiece.

Photos c/o – http://www.operaq.com.au/

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