VERDI’S Rigoletto is one of opera’s finest tales of jealously and revenge, assassins, curses, betrayals and innocence, and where secrets are weapons and loved ones are best kept hidden away.
The fires are burning merrily in the Duke’s palace as beautiful people enjoy magnificent candlelit dinners and party on into the night. Meanwhile, in the streets of Mantua, shadows tread softly. Words pass between hooded figures, their meaning drowned out by the sounds of drunken revelry. Are they whispering sweet nothings, or bitter secrets?
Hodgman teams up once again with designer Richard Roberts after last year’s Don Pasquale to bring the newest production of Rigoletto to the Sydney Opera House, and the stellar cast is sure to impress. Australian baritone José Carbó takes on the challenge of one of opera’s most tormented souls, the embittered court jester Rigoletto. Mexican tenor Diego Torre, claims one of the ultimate prizes in opera – to sing La Donna è Mobile as the infuriatingly debonair Duke. Meanwhile, Australia’s favourite coloratura soprano Emma Matthews returns to the role of Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda while Maestro Anthony Legge wields the baton.
At the same time, Hodgman’s brilliant staging, supported by Roberts’ simple but superb set, Tracy Grant Lord’s atmospheric costumes and Matt Scott’s lighting also breathe new life into this classic operatic saga.
Over the centuries, Rigoletto has been set in different periods – Verdi himself moved it from 18th century France to 16th century Mantua to appease censors. However, in very recent years the opera has been set in Berlusconi’s Italy (Opera Queensland), the Rat Pack’s 1960s Las Vagas (Metropolitan Opera), Kennedy’s White House (Welsh National Opera) and even a version inspired by Planet of the Apes (Bavarian State Opera).
In this production, which Hodgman also first directed and produced back in 2000, the setting returns to a very simple and stylised representation of 16th century Mantua of the original libretto, throwing the focus directly onto the powerful story and characters.
Hodgman himself has directed more than 50 productions ranging from Shakespeare to new Australian works, including TV drama like The Secret Life of Us and Packed to the Rafters, and musicals like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Verdi was one of the preeminent opera composers of the 19th century and when he wrote Rigoletto while he was in his 30s, it is said that the moment he wrote it, he knew he had a hit on his hands. It has since become so widely acclaimed that it is often grouped with other classics such as Il Trovatore and La Traviata.
The plot for Rigoletto was based on a play by Victor Hugo, which had been banned in France, so from the outset Verdi knew he would be battling the censors. After many rewrites and negotiations, Verdi then had to thwart unauthorised copying by keeping rehearsals under tight control. The tenor was forbidden to even whistle ‘La donna è mobile’ outside the rehearsal room! As predicted, the opening night at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice in 1851 was a huge success. Within a year Rigoletto had been performed across Italy, and by 1855 it had premiered in London and New York. It remains one of the most performed operas in the world today.
Rigoletto is playing at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 24. Tickets and full details, call 02 9318 8200 or visit www.opera.org.au