Rigoletto, New Victoria Theatre (Glyndebourne Tour 2019) | Review

New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 27th November 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 

Surprisingly this is the first time Rigoletto has been part of Glyndebourne's rep but Christiane Lutz's radical rewrite definitely proves a welcome addition. Verdi's dramatic revenge tragedy based on Victor Hugo's play is full of emotion and provides great opportunities for stand out performances.

Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester, seeks revenge on his employer, the Duke of Mantua for generally being a bit of a jerk, but mainly for kidnapping and seducing his daughter, whom he has protected and kept hidden for most of her life. There are disguises, storms and in the end it's Rigoletto who loses the most. 

In Lutz's production, the plot has been transferred from 16th-century Mantua to 1930s Hollywood, where a hunchback-less Rigoletto has become Charlie Chaplin and his vicious employer the Duke, is a movie director. In this version the opening scene features courtier Monterone's daughter committing suicide seemingly due to the way the Duke (encouraged by Rigoletto) took advantage of her and then tossed her aside. She leaves behind a baby daughter Gilda whom Rigoletto adopts, but not before both he and the Duke are cursed by the distraught courtier. What follows in a 17 year gap and an incestuous relationship (neither the Duke or Gilda ever find out they are in fact father and daughter), envisaged by neither Hugo or Verdi. 

Overall the changes are mostly effective but the plots feels much more complicated than necessary and it's hard to follow the various relationships, with the end of act one leaving many audience members scratching their heads. The whole added dynamic of Gilda and the Duke proves less compelling and more confusing. That's not to say this production doesn't work and the modernised setting is very effective, but some of the changes feel too dramatic to have not been resolved by the end of the opera.

However, the singers are top notch and this is an opera worth visiting purely for the drama and intensity of the score. At this performance, Nikoloz Lagvilava was unwell so the role of Rigoletto was sung by Michael Druiett and walked on stage by Jofre Carabén van der Meer. Duiett gave an outstanding vocal performance which resonated beautifully and conveyed every emotion exceptionally. Having the role acted separately was actually extremely effective, with Jofre almost taking on the role of a silent movie star against the film set background from Christian Tabakoff. This added a new element to the opera and in a way, let Gilda shine throughout. 

As Gilda, Vuvu Mpofu achieves great success in her vulnerable performance and her top register soars elegantly. Matteo Lippi's resilient Duke is surprisingly charismatic despite his flawed personality and is entertaining throughout.

Despite being somewhat hard to follow, this is a strong production with great theatrical elements, that are entertaining and superbly performed.

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