This soulful opera surrounding father-daughter relationships, hired hitmen and curses offers a twisted morality tale not to be missed.
Opening with a dejected jester at the Duke of Mantua’s glamorous gathering, Rigoletto blends its dark humour with playful visuals to bring its beautifully sculptured story to The Lowry theatre.
Opera North have reimagined Giuseppe Verdi’s treasured 1832 piece under Femi Elufowoju jr’s stunning direction. Combining Elufowoju’s contemporary flair with Verdi’s painfully honest and timeless tale, Rigoletto plays out the ill-fated account of a poor servant of the Duke.
Traditionally seen as disfigured due to his hunched back, Elufowoju simply chooses to to amplify the consequences of a black man who is seen a social pariah for mocking the elites. With Rigoletto’s sombre character teasingly countering his lighthearted boss, he is forced to play the part of the fool while remaining in Duke’s shadow. Inspired by Victor Hugo’s Le Roi S'amuse (The King Amuses Himself) the show swirls love and revenge within its magnetic performances to offer a relatable tale to audiences.
During another one of the Duke’s lavish parties, a gatecrashing statesman places a curse on both the womanising Duke (Roman Arndt) and the unsympathetic Rigoletto (Eric Greene) when his daughter is swiftly seduced and disregarded by the nobleman. Despite initially appearing unperturbed by the action, Rigoletto finds himself tormented working for the jubilant Duke and is forced to hide a heavy secret from the man. The Duke's heartfelt declarations of love to any passing woman offer the catchiest arias of the production, allowing Arndt’s magnetic performance of La Donna È Mobile (loosely translated to Woman is Fickle) to draw the audience closer to his seedy character. On the other hand, Greene’s weighty performances balance the show, packing a weighty, emotional punch.
Cloaked in formal, vibrant costumes that are inspired by traditional Nigerian attire, Verdi’s good-humoured lyrics retain the Duke’s merry atmosphere through the majority of this tragic show. Elufowoju’s production pieces together a whimsical, multicoloured and prop heavy creation that delves into Rigoletto’s enigmatic nature and the Duke’s overwhelming personality.
After his daughter Gilda (Jasmine Habersham) returns from a convent and back into his care, Rigoletto chooses to lock her away from the lustful Duke to retain her innocence. But as she grows suspicious of her evasive father, who has taken his protection of her to Rumpelstiltskin level, refusing to even give her his real name, his bubble-wrapped possession is popped by the ingenious Duke disguising himself as a pauper.
Despite the fact that this 190-year-old production puts women on a platter for their virtue and beauty, Opera North does reshape Gilda's cookie-cutter image, allowing Habersham a more playful performance to flirt with her mysterious midnight visitor and ride a zebra sprinkled in fairy dust.
As Opera North’s dark fairytale continues to colour outside of the traditional lines, the cast's emotional outpouring of Rigoletto’s obsessive themes surrounding revenge and relaxed morals will remain an everlasting obsession with its audience in this undeniable classic.
Tickets are available via the Lowry link