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2010, WNO on tour to Birmingham, Rigoletto


Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Venue and Date:

Welsh National Opera on tour at the Birmingham Hippodrome
7, 9 July 2010
Sung in Italian with English surtitles

Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado
Director: James Macdonald
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting Designer: Simon Mills
Choreographers: Stuart Hopps and Frances Newman


Rigoletto: Simon Keenlyside
Gilda: Sarah Coburn
The Duke of Mantua: Gwyn Hughes Jones
Monterone: Michael Druiett
Sparafucile: David Soar
Maddalena: Leah-Marian Jones

From the WNO website

At what price does revenge come? Faced by deception and corruption, cursed and despised Rigoletto swears that he will have vengeance on his master, the Duke and protect his beloved daughter Gilda. But will he pay the ultimate price?

Rigoletto is one of Verdi’s most powerful and direct operas but also contains some of his most appealing and memorable music including “La donne e mobile” and the breathtaking quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore”. Internationally acclaimed baritone Simon Keenlyside returns to Welsh National Opera to make his debut in the title role.

James Macdonald’s vividly realised production sets Verdi’s thriller in 1960s Washington DC, creating a tense and compelling evening at the theatre.

Running time approximately 2 hours 45 minutes

Photo Gallery


Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post, 8.7.2010

James Macdonald’s Welsh National Opera production of Verdi’s Rigoletto was first seen in 2002, to mixed opinions.

Eight years on, however, and post-Mad Men and The Sopranos, Macdonald’s updating to Kennedy-era Washington DC seems spot-on – the natural setting for a drama that lays bare human nature at its most unremittingly flawed.

When the protagonists are wearing smartly-cut suits, it’s that bit harder to view sexual assault and contract-killing as the stuff of picturesque period drama.

Details rang chillingly true: Monterone, sectioned and sedated, absolving the Duke from a wheelchair; the courtiers’ serial-killer clown-masks looming through the darkness beyond Gilda’s security-fenced backyard.

This was profoundly troubling music drama, heightened by the fact that the central performances were uniformly strong.

Simon Keenlyside’s tremendous, clenched Rigoletto sounded almost too glorious, while Gwyn Hughes Jones’ Duke, for all the star-quality of his tenor, left you in no doubt that his sexual magnetism derived from his power, not his personality.

Sarah Coburn, as an impulsive, vulnerable Gilda, had real fire in her diamond-like soprano.

With Pablo Heras-Casado’s suave conducting and a WNO orchestra still aglow from the previous night’s Meistersinger, the contrast between musical splendour and moral squalor struck home with unsettling force.

Sutton Coldfield.co.uk, 15.7.2010

Opera update is spot-on as story delivers shocks

UPDATING an opera has become a bit of a cliché in recent years – but when it’s done well, it can refresh and transform even the most worn out old war horse.
Not that there’s anything worn out about Verdi’s 1851 shocker Rigoletto.
But director James Macdonald’s production for Welsh National Opera shifts the action to Kennedy-era Washington DC – and the effect is breathtaking.
The Duke of Mantua becomes a philandering president, his courtiers form a sharp-suited rat pack, and the various thugs and prostitutes who lurk around the edges of Verdi’s court of Mantua become – well, exactly that.
The Duke can appear seductive when he’s played in doublet and hose.
But when he’s belting out La donna è mobile in a squalid backstreet brothel, the essence of the drama becomes brutally real.
Macdonald’s production was first seen in 2002, to varied reviews.
This time, however, it feels spot-on.
Post-Mad Men, post-The Sopranos, the world that Macdonald creates is instantly familiar – and that familiarity doubles the shock value of Verdi’s plot.
It helps, though, that the central performances are so uniformly strong.
At the heart of the production was Simon Keenlyside’s tremendous performance as Rigoletto – his debut in the role.
In a check jacket and a leg-brace, this court jester was a sort of grotesque Jerry Lewis, his face distorted with bitterness as he harangued courtiers, but crumpling into troubled compassion as he pleaded with daughter Gilda.
If there was any flaw, it was that Keenlyside sang almost too beautifully – with a stream of tone so sonorous and warm that he repeatedly upstaged Gwyn Hughes Jones’s Duke.
Sarah Coburn, meanwhile, as Gilda, pitched this problematic role to perfection: a vulnerable but determined young woman with a touch of fire in her brilliant soprano.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

asperias July 16, 2010 at 6:05 pm

why should Simon not steal the show anywhere 🙂 ?
i would love to see his Rigoletto:-)

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