OA_RigolettoOpera Australia’s 2014 winter season at the Sydney Opera House has begun with a brand new production of the much loved Verdi Opera Rigoletto.

In keeping with the composer’s original vision, director, Roger Hodgman has gone back to taws with this production, restoring the setting to 16th Century Mantua, and directing the action so that the focus rarely moves from the hunch-back court jester Rigoletto, and his frustrated efforts to protect his beautiful daughter, Gilda, from the clutches of his debauched employer, The Duke of Mantua.

Matt Scot’ atmospheric lighting enhances Richard Roberts impressive double-turntable set, which together with Tracy Grant Lord’s lavish costumes, realised in every shade of red velvet, heavily decorated with gold, purple and black, contrasts the splendour and decadence of the Duke of Mantua’s court and it’s bare-breasted courtesans, with the shadowy squalor of the assassin, Sparafucile’s abode, providing a satisfyingly rich visual spectacle.

But for this most dramatic and gloriously tuneful of operas to weave its spell it needs a cast of great singers. This production currently has a dream cast. It is hard to imagine this opera being better sung or acted, or indeed, better played than it currently is by the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the expert direction of Renato Palumbo.

Giorgio Caoduro, first seen in the shadows, his disability exposed as he dresses impatiently at the start of the day, is arresting as the professional fool, Rigoletto. Caoduro immediately captures the pathos and frustration of Rigoletto’s situation, while delivering his arias with conviction and commitment.

Emma Matthews, at the top of her form, is simply spellbinding as Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter, Gilda. Her compliant yet questioning acceptance of her father’s wishes, her rapturous response to her handsome young suitor’s advances leading inevitably to her final, fatal decision, are all beautifully realised, and her superbly staged, crystalline performance of the famous Caro nome is the stuff of operatic legend.

Handsome Gianluca Terranova has the looks, dash and swagger to be totally convincing as the predatory Duke of Mantua, and his glorious Italianate tenor voice makes mincemeat of Questa o quella and La donna ‘e mobile.

David Parkin with his rich, dark baritone and commanding presence is a stand-out as the assassin, Sparafucile, while as his beautiful red-headed sister, Maddalena, Sian Pendry, is both vocally and physically striking, oozing menace and sex appeal in equal measure, and when she joins Mathews, Caoduro and Terranova for the glorious Act 111 quartet, the blend of voices is sublime.

Samuel Dundas as Count Ceprano, Gennadi Dubinsky as Count Monterone, as well as David Corcoran and Luke Gabbedy as the courtiers, Borsa and Marullo, all contributed vocal strength and eye-catching performances in their roles, and were strongly supported by the excellent, mainly male chorus.

Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Performance: Tuesday 8 July 2014
Season continues to 24 August 2014
Bookings: (02) 9250 7777 or online at: www.sydneyoperahouse.com

For more information, visit: www.opera.org.au for details.

Image: Emma Matthews as Gilda and Giorgio Caoduro as Rigoletto – photo by Branco Gaica

Review: Bill Stephens