Helene Schjerfbeck, Rigoletto, credit Wikidata
Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park
Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park, June 3rd 2023; opera in three acts with music composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave; a new production by Opera Holland Park, directed by Cecilia Stinton; the City of London Orchestra and Opera Holland Park Chorus conducted by Lee Reynolds; reviewed by Leslie Jones
John Allison considers ‘La donna è mobile’ a ‘Me Too tune’ (see ‘Flecks of Light in a Renaissance Painting’, Official Programme). The Duke of Mantua, played by tenor Allesandro Scotto di Luzio, is a cynical misogynist, so cynical that he assumes that Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda must be his mistress. ‘Woman is fickle’, he proclaims in the aforementioned aria, ‘like a feather in the wind’.
Here, Sigmund Freud meets John Stuart Mill. For according to historian Thomas Dixon, the Duke is in thrall to ‘an excessive form of carnal appetite’, to wit, ‘concupiscence’ (see ‘Lust’, Official Programme). Women have only one use, and innocence, as represented by the overly-protected Gilda, constitutes a challenge, or even an aphrodisiac. ‘Women are cunning little demons, the Duke contends. And evidently disposable items, to be duped, or abducted and raped, if all else fails’ (see Leslie Jones, ‘Rigoletto, reloaded’, Quarterly Review, 8th February, 2017). Evil is all the more toxic when conjoined to power. Verdi had no time for what Theodor Fontane called ‘auxiliary constructions’, i.e. for religion and its consolations (Fontane, as cited by Freud in Civilisation and Its Discontents).
Opera Holland Park invariably get the basics right. The set may be cluttered and chaotic. And whence the two men in blazers, brandishing oars? The taped jazz music, likewise, was intrusive. But these were only peripherals. The orchestra was superb, as were all the leading performers. For this reviewer, baritone Stephen Gadd, as Rigoletto, gave the standout performance. Although reportedly ill on the night, he still had tremendous stage presence and the pre-requisite legato and pathos. The audience also rated soprano Alison Langer, as Gilda.
‘Love can be self-sacrificial as in the case of Violetta Valéry, in La Traviata. But it can also be possessive, over-protective, paranoid and ultimately self-destructive’ (Rigoletto, reloaded) – witness that tragic figure Rigoletto. Amor fati.
Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of Quarterly Review