Giuseppe Verdi; libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Ellen Kent and Opera International presenting
The Chisinau National Opera in association with the Ukrainian National Opera of Odessa Sunderland Empire and touring

Production photo

If you like good full-blooded melodrama, you can't do any better than Rigoletto: a licentious, indeed totally immoral aristocrat and a corrupt court; a jester crippled in body and mind; a curse from the father of a debauched girl; a murderer who kills to order with his almost as evil sister; an innocent deceived and killed - it's got it all, except that the good don't live happily ever after, although the aristocrat and his court do.

It needs to be played big and boldly, which is just what this company does. The sets - and they are touring sets which have to be got in and out sometimes on a daily basis - are magnificent. The atmosphere of corruption and licentiousness is created by a chorus, including three nude courtesans, who entwine themselves around each other, and we also have one of the tyically Ellen Kent "specials", a huge golden eagle. Quite why it was there - other than for the sheer spectacle of seeing such a magnificant beast - I don't know, but it was impressive.

It seemed to take Andriy Perfilov (The Duke) a while to get into his stride and find his voice, but once he did - in time for Questa o quella - he sang well, looked good, making the Duke's attraction for women (and especially the innocent Gilda) totally believable, and conveyed the arrogance and utter selfishness of the man, mixed with an ability to sound and look as though he meant every lie that he tells. By the time we reached La donna è mobile he was in magnificent voice, drawing cries of "Bravo" from the audience.

Perfilov is one of the youngest soloists in the company whereas Valdimir Dragos is one of the most well established. I was not entirely happy with his Germont in Traviata last year but tonight he was a powerful and dominating Rigoletto.

But for me the real star of the production was another of the company's youngsters, Maria Tonina in her first UK tour. Her Gilda was wonderful: her voice positively soars and, in the quartet at the beginning of Act III (The Duke, Rigoletto, Gilda and Borsa - Un di, si ben rammentomi), she positively shone - her Infelice cor tradito was heart-rending.

These three were well supported by the rest of the cast - although I would have liked Dmytro Pavlyuk's Sparafucile to be more sinister in his first appearance.

As always with the Eastern European companies which Ellen Kent brings to the UK, the acting tends to be somewhat static (although this week's Bohème sent some way towards a more modern style of performance) but the traditional style really suits Rigoletto. In spite of its ending, Rigoletto is not the tear-jerker that Bohème is, for it is on a grander scale than the Pucinni which is more affecting because it is more domestic and therefore hits harder. But if you like your opera full-bloodedly melodramatic, presenetd in a traditional way, then Rigoletto is a perfect night at the opera.

The production tours to Leicester, Dundee, Glasgow, Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Grimsby, Torquay, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, Wimbledon, Stoke, Aberdeen, Brighton, Woking and Richmond, where it ends on 21st June.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan