Rigoletto - October 2008

Reviewed by Pippa Hare

Giuseppe Verdi 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 by mistake.

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.

The orchestra, 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.



Pippa Hare

Music & Vision

28th November 2008

Monster Act

Rigoletto - Verdi

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 stylishly confirmed.

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).

Impish prankster, 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.

Colin Martin's lighting worked eerie wonders for the storm scene, proled across by a fine basso Sparafucile, Graham Stone.

Mark Fitz-Gerald's 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 Dorset Opera.

A letter from one of our Friends;

Dear Sally and Richard,

Many congratulations on your brilliant production of 'Rigoletto' which I saw on Saturday afternoon.
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 Best Yet!
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.

Yours sincerely,

Patricia Mackenzie

The Dress Rehearsal photos are
available here.