- October 2008
Reviewed by Pippa Hare
composed his opera 'Rigoletto' in just forty days in 1851. It
was founded on Victor Hugo's, play 'Le Roi s'amuse' known to
English playgoers as 'The fool's Revenge' by Tom Taylor.
The story which
has certain Shakespearean qualities, is woven around the central
character Rigoletto, the hunchback jester at the court of the
Duke of Mantua. He is a man of caustic wit and unscrupulous conduct
and an inferiority complex owing to his ugly shape. He is in
effect a loner, but he lives for his one 'treasure', his beautiful
only daughter Gilda, whom he keeps in seclusion.
However by chance the irascible
Duke of Mantua, has fallen in love with Gilda whom he has noticed
in church. Count Ceprano, fed up with the Rigoletto's taunting
and imagining that Gilda is Rigoletto's mistress, arranges to
get her abducted to spite the jester and she is spirited away
to the Duke's court. When Rigoletto finds out what the Duke has
done to his precious daughter, he determines to murder the Duke.
This goes disastrously wrong and in fact it is Gilda who is murdered
This production by Kentish
Opera 'buzzed' from the moment the curtains were parted to reveal
the chorus adorned in vibrant coloured costumes, blues, reds,
purples. Enid Strutt must be commended for her sets along with
Carol Stevenson for her costumes, particularly in this opening
scene. The contrast coming in the next scene when one arrives
at Rigoletto's humble abode.
At this point I
must say that I would have loved to see the other cast in action
as well, but of course that could not be, but they will not be
forgotten by their audiences!
Mark Saberton was a most
convincing Rigoletto, not over-doing his handicap as an ungainly
hunchback (which sometimes happens in this part). His attractive
baritone voice was clear and strong when needed, but he also
brought out very well his despair at the end of the last act,
when he realised that he had been responsible for the murder
of his own daughter. His acting was always consistent with the
part and I found him to be well cast as Rigoletto, gradually
gaining sympathy as his tragic fate was sealed.
Philip O'Brien was clearly
born to play this part, perhaps a little bit younger than some
Dukes I have heard, but the Duke's impish, flirtatious, supremely
selfish character came across perfectly. He acted well and flung
himself into the part, which I suspect he really enjoyed playing!
He is no doubt in demand, and one can see why when one listens
to his confident tenor voice.
Claire Surman has a strong
and rich soprano voice which blended well with that of Rigoletto
and the Duke. I would just say that she needs to get a bit more
variety into her singing. Her acting was good and she made a
most convincing Gilda.
Other parts, in particular
Count Monterone (Chris Parke), Marullo (Richard Fox) and particularly
Maddalena (Amanda O'Brien) who made a necessary contrast to Gilda,
were all notable singers in this production.
conducted most professionally by Mark Fitz-Gerald, played with
confidence and always with an appropriate level of sound.
The company were fortunate
enough to be directed by Sally Langford who herself has sung
many principal roles, working with, among others, Benjamin Britten,
so it is not surprising that she was able to inspire such a strong
performance. I much look forward to Kentish Opera's next production,
La Boheme in May.
E M FORSTER THEATRE
A Review by
RODERIC DUNNETT - Opera Now, March / April 2009
Victor Hugo wrote
only one opera libretto - the long-forgotten Esmerelda, by Berlioz's
protégé, Louise Bertin - based on Notre Dame, and
which received a first-ever revival in concert at Radio France's
2008 Montpelier Festival. The intensity of Rigoletto (after Le
Roi s'amuse, 1832) we owe largely to Verdi's librettist Piave,
as this handsomely presented, dramatically invigorating production
Kentish Opera draws
its strength from experience. Conductor, set, lighting and costume
designers have all worked together for more than two decades,
and their stagings' assurance, conviction and integration proves
it. Artistic director Sally Langford brings Verdian experience
plus a Tchaikovskian, fate-laden intensity to her directorial
role. Act I's choruses were vibrantly dressed, intelligently
blocked, cleanly drilled and resplendently sung. The male chorus
was mischievously alive in the abduction and terrifying for the
offstage (but also visible) storm. Enid Strutt's split-level
set adapted skilfully (one long set change apart) from court
to street scene to the hovel-like taverna of an empathetic Maddalena
(Amanda O'Brien); while Carol Stevenson's Mantegna-like reds,
beiges and pinks gained symbolic force when Rigoletto's costume
harnessed ominously with the throne on which he hubristically,
yet almost Lear-Like, perches.
Hugo here inverts
natural and social orders alike, but even Fate needs strong protagonists.
Mark Saberton (alternating with Gary Coward) was an inspired
casting as Rigoletto. Losing the limelight at the start by Philip
O'Brien's gorgeously phrased, beautifully enunciated roistering
Duke (now there was a sound to relish), his first quizzical entrance
consciously cloaked by palace frolickings, Saberton's sinister
characterisation grew massively in strength by the ensuing scene,
abetted by Claire Surman, a Gilda of glorious high register;
and even grimmer as his revenge gnaws its way into focus, like
some Freudian inner-projection of Monterone's curse (Chris Parke).
emerging monster; jovial, agonised; lion or mouse - Saberton,
when goaded can wriggle into all these roles. Gesturally and
facially (eyes glowering like a Robert Newton leer), he is a
formidable Shakesperian presence. With strong direction he is
a natural Falstaff (as he proved in Salieri's version, for Bampton).
Vocally his middle range is magnificent, and he has the bluster
of a fine buffo too; a casting director's dream.
lighting worked eerie wonders for the storm scene, proled across
by a fine basso Sparafucile, Graham Stone.
orchestra excelled too. A wideish beat felt a little too generous
for detail, but his pacings were masterly. Early solo brass,
paired clarinets, solo cello, Rigoletto's mournful oboe, juddering
string ostinati and astonishing subtlety for the storm all played
their part. Rigoletto is another feather in Kentish Opera's cap,
more than rivalling Opera South and in hot pursuit of the magnificent
A letter from
one of our Friends;
Dear Sally and
on your brilliant production of 'Rigoletto' which I saw on Saturday
The impact of the colours in the opening scene just took our
breath away, to be followed by the wonderful singing of your
principals, not forgetting the superb efforts of your chorus.
Each time I come to see Kentish Opera I say "This is the
best yet" - and this time it was again a real treat - The
You must be very proud of your company, and all who take part,
in whatever capacity, in producing such wonderful entertainment
for your audiences.
I look forward to next May and in the meantime many congratulations
and best wishes to you all.
The Dress Rehearsal photos are available here.