Verdi’s richly melodious tragedy glistens again as Opera Australia returns its much loved Moshinsky staging of Rigoletto to the Melbourne stage.
In a highly regrettable incident, the evening’s drama began not on stage but in the auditorium, when aggrieved composer George Dreyfus attempted to address the crowd with a megaphone from the middle of the front row. Shouted down by the rightfully indignant audience, Dreyfus refused to move, holding the curtain for over 15 minutes until Arts Centre staff were finally able to move him out of the space.
Full credit to conductor, orchestra and singers alike for beginning their performance with freshness and focus, allowing the audience to move on and enjoy the evening’s musical feast.
Maestro Andrea Licata leads Orchestra Victoria in a traditional performance of Verdi’s celebrated score, utilising sensible tempi and finely calibrated dynamics. Under the expert tutelage of chorus master Anthony Hunt, the work of the Opera Australia Chorus is at a premium, amusing the audience with the men’s all too cute rendition of “Scorrendo uniti.”
Director Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production shimmers with a darkly burnished, decadent La Dolce Vita aesthetic. Last seen in Melbourne in 2010, the production’s return indicates that the underwhelming 2014 Rigoletto has been shelved. The richly detailed revolving set may be small for the State Theatre stage, but revival director Hugh Halliday has made good use of the ample surrounding space to give the drama room to move.
Halliday’s direction includes preparation of a leading role debut and an Australian stage debut, both clearly handled with thorough attention to detail. Although a couple of added moments, such as Gilda sneaking a cigarette, seem positioned to amuse the audience rather than support the original intent, Halliday has delivered the central drama with great flair, successfully sustaining the tension as the opera drives towards its tragic conclusion.
In a thrilling Australian debut, Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat gives a compelling performance as hunchbacked jester Rigoletto, fully inhabiting the role physically and singing with an extraordinarily plush velvety tone. From the moment the curtained iris opens on Enkhbat, trembling backstage as Rigoletto dons his garish clown costume, the character’s trembling vulnerability creates an instant bond of sympathy with the audience.
Enkhbat’s broad expressive face even conveys emotion from behind the white clown make-up, and he clutches Rigoletto’s walking sticks as though he had a walking difficulty of his own. In absolute command of his vocal performance, Enkhbat exhibits a gorgeous Verdian legato and maintains exquisite control over his dynamics. Vocal expression ranges from tender father to thundering madman, with these emotions also reflected in his facial expression and body language.
Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan makes deceptively easy work of the womanising Duke of Mantua, exuding a comfortable stage presence and giving a confident vocal performance. Avetisyan performs the Duke’s hit tunes with flair, with just a slight wobble on the high B at the end of his two renditions of “La donna é mobile.” Avetisyan’s best work of the evening comes at the start of act two, when the Duke shows his tender side in the intimate pair of arias “Ella mi fu rapita!” and “Parmi veder le lagrime.”
In a significant role debut, burgeoning Melbourne soprano Stacey Alleaume graces the stage as an authentically youthful Gilda, precious daughter of Rigoletto. Alleaume acts with deftly unaffected style, creating a believable, endearing heroine. Left alone on stage to sing to 2000 operagoers, Alleaume delivers a charming rendition of “Caro nome,” singing with a lovely silvery tone. With further experience in the role, and the ever-increasing confidence that this will bring, Alleaume’s future as a Gilda of great import is keenly anticipated.
Halliday delineates the supporting characters with distinction, eliciting solid performances from Gennadi Dubinsky (Count Monterone), Luke Gabbedy (Marullo), Virgilio Marino (Borsa), and Christopher Hillier (Count Ceprano). Characterful mezzo-soprano Dominica Matthews balances cantankerousness with twinkling charm as aging housekeeper Giovanna.
Italian bass Roberto Scandiuzzi is luxury casting as casually malevolent assassin Sparafucile, his ominous bass voice dripping with ominous portent. Not just one of Opera Australia’s finest singers, mezzo-soprano Sian Sharp (née Pendry) consistently impresses with the quality of her acting, again making a striking impression with the act three arrival of sultry siren Maddalena.
One of the true opera classics, the return of Rigoletto is all the more welcome for the fact that it is not overdone in Melbourne. Newcomers could well fall in love with opera for life.
Rigoletto plays select dates at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 29 May 2019.
Solo opera goers can enjoy Rigoletto with like-minded arts lovers on 15 May 2019 as part of Opera Australia’s new Opera for One program.
Photos: Jeff Busby