Rigoletto, Opera Australia

The revival is even more welcome thanks to the outstanding
performances of Michael Lewis and Rigoletto and Emma Matthews as Gilda.

The swinging, cynical sixties Moshinsky creates is the perfect world for the
Duke. Paparazzi swarm around his act one party where showgirls dance with

Act one springs along in this updated guise, the circus-like party music
even sounding like the sort of music Fellini’s regular composer Nino Rota
would have written had he lived a century earlier.

Michael Yeargan’s revolving ‘doll house’ set shows the
Duke’s palace, the street where Rigoletto meets Sparafucile,
Rigoletto’s house and Sparafucile’s inn. A quick quarter turn in
acts two and four and you have some open space for Gilda’s abduction and
the final father-daughter duet. It all works splendidly and is another of Opera
Australia’s landmark productions. The set also concentrates the action
close to the front of the stage so, when the many set pieces come along, the
characters are conveniently up stage nicely placed to deliver their arias.

Michael Lewis is a model Verdi baritone, perfect diction, smooth legato and
clear, ringing top. Lewis exploits every note of the music, sung and unsung, to
convey character. Seen during the prelude, applying a grotesque clown make-up
(anticipating Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman), Lewis’s
Rigoletto then stands to show this Rigoletto’s extra handicap. Crippled,
Lewis beetles about on walking sticks. Lewis’s thirty years singing the
role bring insights into the character’s words and music illuminate every
dimension of Rigoletto’s tragedy big and small from his terrified freeze
at Monterone’s curse to the perfectly timed pause and wild yowl when
Gilda dies.

Emma Matthews is radiant as Gilda. Mentored in the role by Joan Sutherland,
she now takes the highest alternatives at the close of “Caro nomo”,
singing with a security and sophistication that would make her late, great
predecessor proud. Matthews’s acting matches her singing and she creates
an understandably fatalistic young woman out of Gilda. Her murder scene is
actually shocking; she strides fearlessly into the tavern so Maddalena seems to
see it is a woman, not a man, and shrieks with horror as Gilds is stabbed.
Jacqueline Dark, in the unlikely double act of Gilda’s untrustworthy
guardian and then co-assassin brings a Freudian undertone perfectly in keeping
with the story.

Rosario la Spina makes less of the Duke than his colleagues seeming to sing
without much involvement but this has the advantage of suggesting the
Duke’s detachment from his many victims.

OA_Rigoletto_02.gifMichael Lewis as Rigoletto [Photo by Jeff Busby courtesy of Opera Australia]

Conductor Marko Letonja and Orchestra Victoria do some splendid work with
shaping the tender moments. The Rigoletto/Gilda duets are as lovingly shaped as
they are sung and the often-repeated ‘curse’ theme and storm music
are thrilling without being bombastic.

Michael Magnusson

image_description=Scene from Rigoletto [Photo courtesy of Opera Australia]
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
product_by=Rigoletto: Michael Lewis; Gilda: Emma Matthews (Natalie Jones 25 & 27 November); Duke of Mantua: Rosario La Spina; Sparafucile: Richard Anderson; Maddalena/Giovanna: Jacqueline Dark; Monterone: Jud Arthur; Marullo: Luke Gabbedy; Borsa: David Corcoran; Count Ceprano: Richard Alexander; Countess Ceprano: Jane Parkin; Usher: Clifford Plumpton; Page — Jodie McGuren. Director: Elijah Moshinsky (Revival Director: Cathy Dadd); Conductor: Marko Letonja; Set & Costume Designer: Michael Yeargan. State Theatre, The Arts Centre (November 22, 25, 27 December 1, 3, 7, 10, 18, 2010)
product_id=Above: Scene from Rigoletto [Photo courtesy of Opera Australia]