Opera Holland Park has excelled in recent seasons in dusting down plenty of Italian pot-boilers that seldom see the light of day – this season alone they have staged Catalani’s La Wally and Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and these rarities inevitably bring out the best in this ambitious company.
Sometimes the more traditional operatic fair tends to make less of an impression here, so it’s heartening to report that not only does Lindsay Posner’s staging of Rigoletto pack an enormous theatrical punch, but for its theatrical audacity, sense of danger and coherence, it knocks spots off recent performances of this work at London’s more well-known operatic addresses.
The wide performing space that OHP offers must be every designer’s nightmare but Tom Scutt comes up with a solution that is both ingenious and serviceable. Two freight containers dominate the stage area – both are seamlessly repositioned by stage hands as required by the numerous scenic changes – each in a rusty-ochre colour with the word ‘ITALIA’ emblazoned across the front.
This affords much of the stage action, especially in the second scene of Act One (Rigoletto’s house) and Act Three (Sparafucile’s gaudy bar) the intimacy it needs, yet seldom gets. After a slightly shaky start – too much hip gyrating by a bevy of dominatrix-like ‘ladies’ which was far from sexy, the whole production suddenly came into focus from the second scene onwards, and never for once let go of its tight emotional grip on the spectator. Posner’s staging was full of wonderfully deft touches and a real sense of danger and menace undercut the proceedings.
He was lucky to have such a committed cast at his disposal. Robert Poulton was a towering jester with enough vocal heft to give the climaxes a thrilling edge, yet able to be introspective where required and Julia Sporsen was a tough-minded and independent Gilda. She floated some glorious high notes in ‘Caro nome’ and acted the role as if her life depended on it. Posner’s treatment of the closing bars of the work was ingenious – Rigoletto poured out his emotion to her lifeless body, whilst she provided an angelic presence by singing from the top of one of the crates. Was Gilda actually dead and Rigoletto imagined that she was still hanging on to life? Maybe, but in the context of the rest of the production it made total dramatic sense.
Jaewoo Kim was a pleasing Duke but was lacking in charisma and his voice sounded too thin, but there was plenty of malevolent support from Graeme Broadbent’s oily Sparafucile and Patricia Orr’s sultry Maddalena. Stuart Stratford elicited idiomatic playing from the City of London Sinfonia and the chorus excelled – no more so than their suitably eerie off-stage contribution to the storm in the last act.
All in all another feather in the ever-resourceful and enterprising OHP’s cap.