“a highly theatrical production where visual spectacle combined with emotionally charged scenes ... make this a Rigoletto to remember” THE OPERA CRITIC
Some of Australia’s finest singers - Michael Lewis, Rosario La Spina and rising star Elena Xanthoudakis - will join the Opera Queensland Chorus and Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch to realise Rigoletto’s thrilling score, featuring the well-known Quartet Bella figlia dell’amore and the famous tenor arias Questa o quella and La donna è mobile.
For Verdi’s heartbreaking tale of power, corruption and betrayal, director Lindy Hume evokes a familiar modern Italy where the all-powerful Duke of Mantua holds court surrounded by sycophants and party girls.
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The chilling drama plays out against Richard Roberts’ spectacular sets - from the Duke’s high gloss palace to the murderous squalor of the underworld, whose pervasive darkness is broken by startling cinematic touches and atmospheric lighting.
*Free pre-performance talks about the opera, hosted by John Colwill, commence 45 minutes before each performance and last approximately 20 minutes. For Rigoletto, the talks will take place in the river end of the Balcony Foyer of the Lyric Theatre (i.e. Balcony One).
A party at the Duke of Mantua’s Palace
For three months the Duke has been lusting after a new girl. He knows where she lives and that a mysterious man visits her every night. One woman is as good as another for the Duke, who has his eye on the Countess Ceprano. With the Duke’s party in full swing Marullo arrives with some juicy gossip: the hunchback court jester Rigoletto has a lover! Rigoletto taunts Ceprano about the Duke seducing his wife. Outraged, Ceprano enlists his friends to take revenge on Rigoletto. An uninvited guest, Monterone storms in accusing the Duke of seducing his daughter. Rigoletto mocks the old man savagely but Monterone will not be silenced. As the Duke has him arrested he curses both the Duke and Rigoletto.
In a dark street, Rigoletto meets Sparafucile, a hired killer – a fateful and disturbing encounter. His mind filled with Monterone’s curse, Rigoletto rails against mankind, his deformity and his enemies in the Duke’s court.
Once home, he deflects his daughter Gilda’s many questions. Knowing the danger that surrounds her, he has kept her hidden from the world and ordered Gilda never to go out alone. He hears a noise in the street, rushes outside to investigate, and the Duke, who has been waiting outside, slips inside, aided by the housekeeper Giovanna. The Duke is amazed to discover that the girl he’s been following is his jester’s daughter. When Rigoletto leaves, Gilda confesses that she loves the young man she has seen at church. Pretending to be a student, “Gualtier Maldè”, the Duke protests his love for her, but they are interrupted. After their encounter she floats off to bed, rapturously repeating his name.
Outside the house, the Duke’s courtiers’ plot to abduct Rigoletto’s “lover” is threatened when the hunchback returns unexpectedly. They trick him into helping them to capture his own daughter.
The Duke is furious –he has been back to Rigoletto’s house and found it deserted. The courtiers recount how they tricked the hunchback – they present the abducted girl to the delighted Duke.
Searching for his daughter, Rigoletto realises that Gilda must be with the Duke. He curses and pleads with the courtiers to return her to him, revealing that the girl that they thought was his lover is really his daughter. When she appears, having been raped by the Duke, Gilda confesses everything to her appalled father. On his way to execution, Monterone revokes his curse on the Duke. Rigoletto undertakes to avenge them both, despite Gilda’s pleas for forgiveness.
Sparafucile’s bar, in a rough part of town
Rigoletto forces his naive daughter to watch as the disguised Duke is entertained by a whore, Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena. Having sent Gilda away to Verona, Rigoletto and Sparafucile negotiate the Duke’s murder, and make arrangements to collect the Duke’s body at midnight. A storm gathers force, and Maddalena falls for her handsome client. She suggests her brother kill the hunchback instead, causing an argument, but Sparafucile agrees that if someone arrives before midnight, he will kill them instead. Gilda, who has returned in disguise as a man, overhears them and decides to commit suicide by giving her life for the Duke’s. As the storm reaches its climax, the murder takes place.
At midnight, Sparafucile gives Rigoletto a sack that contains his victim’s body. Gloating, Rigoletto is about to push it into the river when he hears the Duke’s voice in the distance. He tears open the sack and finds his daughter, barely alive. She dies in his arms. Monterone’s curse is fulfilled.
The moment Giuseppe Verdi read Victor Hugo's play Le Roi s’amuse, he knew it was his next opera. ‘The subject is grand, immense, and there is a character that is one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of, in any country and in all history.’ The censors famously disagreed, calling it ‘a repugnant example of immorality and obscene triviality.’ They were both right: Verdi's creation is both a magnificent observation of flawed humanity and a disturbingly dystopian view of a society where power corrupts and injustice goes unpunished.
This is my third production of Rigoletto, created for New Zealand Opera in 2012. As you will see, I found inspiration for the spirit of the bad boy Duke of Mantua in Silvio Berlusconi, who at the time was breezing through his bunga bunga sex trial with his signature blend of political incorrectness, immaculate tailoring and dazzling (if cosmetically enhanced) smile. Where better to set the debauched action of Rigoletto than the colorful, charismatic, spectacularly excessive Berlusconi court? Even now that Silvio has retreated from public life somewhat, his bunga bunga parties, corruption scandals and his outrageous behaviour are the stuff of legend. How could I resist?
This is one of the great opera scores of all time. To do it justice, we have assembled a terrific cast. In the title role, we welcome back Michael Lewis, one of Australia's finest Verdi baritones, alongside a rising star in world opera houses, soprano Elena Xanthoudakis as Gilda. We’re thrilled that tenor Rosario La Spina will make his long-awaited OperaQ stage debut as the debauched Duke of Mantua, while two fabulous singing actors Jud Arthur and Dimity Shepherd will bring to life the murderous siblings Sparafucile and Maddalena. We love to showcase Queensland’s fabulous local artists, so it’s exciting that Andrew Collis, Virgilio Marino, Shaun Brown, Anne Fulton and Emily Burke all play figures in Rigoletto's dark landscape. As always, the gentlemen of the Opera Queensland chorus, meticulously directed by Head of Music and Chorus Master Narelle French, will bring Verdi's famous choruses and the Duke's parties to vivid life.
Rigoletto’s epic musical forces are underpinned by the excellent Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of their Chief Conductor Johannes Fritzsch. It is an enormous pleasure to work with Maestro Fritzsch again, more than two decades after our first collaboration of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
The whole OperaQ team joins me in warmly welcoming you to tonight’s performance. If you enjoy your night at the opera, tell your friends or better still, bring them along next time!
Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Rigoletto is presented by arrangement with New Zealand Opera.
The performance lasts 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one twenty minute interval.
Image by Neil Mackenzie