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04 September, 2006

Class act: Rigoletto at Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Friday 1st September 2006

The traditional first day of spring in Australia (and 'Wattle Day' in New South Wales) saw a new and worthy outing of Moshinsky and Yeargan's brilliant production of Rigoletto.

I found it thoroughly enjoyable, proving that it is possible to have rape, kidnapping, murder and arbitrary combatant incarceration without having to warn the audience in advance. The Duke's palace is an arched, panelled Victorian hall updated in Pompeii red to the 1950s. Every bit of wall space is covered with greater or lesser master paintings, the sun admitted through a fenestrated sky-light. The opening party scene has an off-stage recorded orchestra which was somewhat off-putting.

The opera company appears to be expecting much from young tenor Rosario La Spina but he is steadily growing in vocal stature and delivered the goods (and more) as the Duke. There were some moments of magnificent aural 'ping' and fioritura filling the hall with glorious Italianate song. After a slightly hesitant start to 'Questo e quella' he seemed to relax and even show off a little, possibly holding some notes just a bit too long for good taste. He did the second act cabaletta, wisely not attempting the terminal high D. 'La donna e mobile' was also excellent. We sometimes forget that it is so famous partly because it is just so difficult.

Jonathan Summers can still pull it out of the bag. He avoids the highest baritone notes and sang the final 'Ah, la maledizione' on the one level. Yet his voice is velvety with exemplary enunciation and projection. His acting is also totally convincing, keeping in character right to the end of the curtain calls, as if he were truly a crippled hunchback with two sticks.

Natalie Jones was a delicate but exciting Gilda. The 'Caro nome' was studied and accurate, possibly closer to what Verdi would have known than the Callas, Sutherland, Peters and other more recent Gildas we may have become familiar with.

All the minor characters were strongly portrayed and well sung, especially: Catherine Carby as both Giovanna and Maddalena; Judd Arthur as Monterone; Arend Baumann as Sparfucile.

Conductor Andrea Licata seemed to be strict about tempi and kept things moving in this non-stop production.

I would recommend this show to anyone: whether novice or veteran opera goer, all should enjoy it.

Also not to be missed is the colourful Graham Murphy Turandot which I saw again on Saturday 2nd September with Jennifer Wilson, Nicole Youl and Dennis O'Neill (Warren Mok is Calaf for the last 3 performances). Get a ticket if you can: if 'sold out' just ask for the restricted view 'loge' seats ('points' if possible) which are almost NEVER fully sold – good sound and excellent value, too!

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..