Rigoletto's daughter Gilda is an innocent who is first deceptively seduced, then kidnapped, and raped - behind this are powerful men acting with complete impunity and treating a woman as nothing more than a disposable object for their pleasure.
Written in 1850, Rigoletto was perhaps the first opera to deal openly with the issue of sexual violence, and the story has real resonance today in the age of Kavanaugh, Trump, Weinstein and #MeToo. This is not a lightweight caprice - this story is dark, damning and cursed, and there was, when it was first written and performed in Venice, a difficult dance to get the work past the censors. The story was, and is, too close to the bone for the comfort of the venal, cynical tyrants it illuminates.
In this 2018 production opening in Glasgow, then travelling on to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Inverness, there is much to enjoy in this spectacular production of Verdi's dark and tragic story. It is captivating, tragic and memorable.
Stunning New Voices
Making her debut with Scottish Opera, Lina Johnson as Gilda, is a revelation. Her gorgeous soprano voice is superbly controlled, and reaches out into the auditorium with both power and clarity. I can certainly vouch for this as I watched the first act from the heights of the balcony in the Theatre Royal, and enjoyed the second act a few rows from the stage in the stalls.
This is not, by the way, a new opera reviewing trick - it was enforced by a late arrival, but it was in fact a great way to appreciate the craft of what was on stage - first at some distance, and then up close.
Two other debuts, from David Shipley as the assassin Sparafucile, and Adam Smith as the licentious Duke of Mantua, are also notable: both were powerful and still controlled, with Smith's rendition of the famous aria 'La donna è mobile' earning warm applause from an appreciative audience. Shipley's bass voice was convincingly chilling and dark.
Rigoletto, played by Aris Argiris, also debuts for Scottish Opera in this great baritone role, and he more than acquitted himself with expressive voice and movement, and captured brilliantly both the overpowering, desperate love of this character for his daughter, and his dark, manipulative malevolence.
The set design is stark, minimal and highly effective, with the off-kilter boxed room in the third act particularly standing out. Superb costumes also add to the spectacle, and at the moments when the chorus was moving around the stage, whether in roistering mood in black tie, or kidnapping Gilda in sinister masks and monochrome guise, made a treat for the eye. The use of showroom dummies is inspired - these highlight the treatment of women as objects, rather than as human beings.
The lush and inventive lighting also has to be remarked on - at key moments Rigoletto's and Gilda's shadows were cast behind them larger than life, and the dark, shadowy noir atmosphere throughout was controlled with real finesse to highlight the key action on stage, which in this story is often the actions and reactions of the onlookers.
But it is of course the music which is at the core of any opera production, and both voices and orchestra worked together superbly, both in technical execution and in the often tricky balance in overall volume. The chorus moved and sang with precision, and lesser characters such as Maddalena, Giovanna and Count Monterone both looked and sounded a delight. The acoustic of the Theatre Royal is well suited to Opera, and with the unusual opportunity to hear the production both from the balcony and stalls, the experience was just as ravishing and enjoyable in both locations.
In conclusion, this is a consummate production which hits all the right notes for the ear and the eye.
★★★★ 4 stars
19, 21 (3pm), 24, 27th October 7:15pm Theatre Royal, Glasgow
1, 3 November, 7:15pm His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen
9, 11 (3pm) 15, 17 November 7:15pm Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
20, 22, 24 November 7:15pm Empire Theatre, Inverness
Running time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 20 minute interval