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Verdi - Rigoletto

Opera Holland Park 24 July 2006

Conductor – Peter Robinson

Director – John La Bouchardiere   

Designer – Jamie Vartan

Costumes – Donatella Bariere

Lighting – Colin Grenfell


Rigoletto – Olafur Sigurdarson

Gilda – Gail Pearson

Duke – Paul O'Neill

Sparafucile – Paul Reeves

Maddalena – Heather Ship

Monterone – Nicholas Folwell

Marullo – David Stout

Borsa – Aled Hall

Ceprano – David Soar


There are no curtains at Holland Park so as the audience took their seats they could see the plain white set and centre stage a sack containing something curled in a foetal position. Those who knew the opera would immediately make the mental jump to the end of the evening when Rigoletto's revenge backfires so cruelly and the sack will hide the murdered body of his daughter. It's a very effective strategy, but what is so clever about John La Bouchardiere's direction is that it works equally convincingly for those who have never seen Rigoletto or have only a sketchy memory of this opera.


There lies the sack; the overture begins to play and an ordinary looking bloke wanders in. He opens up the sack and draws out a jester's costume, tugs it on over his jeans and, as a final touch, stuffs the sack into the back of his shirt to produce a hunchbacked effect. His movements are all perfectly timed to synchronise with the music, and we know from square one that the cynical joker is a mere façade of his job.


Circled by watchful bodyguards, the “court” is a modern playboy one, through which the “Duke” circulates with an air of casual authority. The party atmosphere is convincing, it's not just a faceless crowd, but a group of clearly portrayed individuals to whom Monterone delivers his curse with chilling venom.


Our first glimpse of Gilda comes in Scene 2, and it's something of a shock, she is dressed in white from head to toe in a little girl frock, as fragile as a china doll and as unnatural as an automaton - the over-protected child of an obsessive parent. She undergoes a very visible growing up process in this production. After her abduction she appears in a black nightgown which she ashamedly clutches around her, later surreptiously putting her pants on; later she emerges in Act III as a sophisticated young lady, comfortable in a glamorous evening dress and jewellery.


OHP were adhering to their policy of nurturing young talent and allowing singers to tackle major roles early in their careers. Olafur Sigurdarson (Rigoletto) has progressed through four seasons with them, whilst Paul O'Neill (The Duke) is straight out of National Opera Studio. Both sang strongly and if they had an occasional moment of stress it was completely outweighed by their commitment and overall quality of performance.


They were surrounded by a supporting cast packed with emerging talent. Another fine cameo came from from OHP regular Aled Hall (Borsa), David Soar was a suave and rich voiced Ceprano, and David Stout (recently seen as Gianni Schicchi and Falstaff at GSMD) made his professional debut as a very camp Marullo . Heather Shipp as a fur coated but scantily clad Maddalena and Paul Reeves (Sparafucile), whose bass voice is now and filling out impressively, made an upmarket pair of villains.


Peter Robinson conducted with his usual care and attention to detail – a most enjoyable evening.


Serena Fenwick