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11 February, 2003

Rigoletto at the Sydney Opera House, Wed 11th February 2003

Sydney Opera House

Wed 11th February 2003

Dear Colleagues,

We were treated to a marvellous performance of Verdi's masterpiece in Moshinsky's classic non-stop production with singers of the highest calibre. The Pompeii red arched portrait gallery where much of the opera takes place is a decorative and theatrical triumph. To my mind, this performance demonstrates the high standard of opera in this country. And it was not in the Gala opening night series, but seemingly a 'special' for the passengers of the QEII which was moored nearby.

Victor Hugo's hunchback, Tribulet (aka Rigoletto), was played by Michael Lewis who 'became' the character in a way rarely seen on the opera stage. His vocal accuracy, volume, diminuendos, breath control and particularly his high tessitura were incomparable. The final 'maledizione' was quite breathtaking, if unwritten. He limped, lurched and loomed about the set with his two sticks, taunts flying to and from the courtiers who he so detests. His tender moments with Gilda were equally moving.

On no less than 6 occasions in this opera the plot requests character's identity. Was this shades of modern security? Rigoletto seeks Sparafucile's contact details; Gilda wants to know her mother's name; she then asks the Duke his name (and sings of it 'Caro nome'); Rigoletto seeks Marullo's identity in the abduction scene; Sparafucile wants to know the names of his victim and his client ('Crime' and 'Punishment') while finally a desparate Rigoletto asks who is the body in the bag on hearing the Duke's unmistakable refrain from the adjacent lodgings.

Joanna Cole's Gilda had most of the requisite 'frills'. The production has her as a naughty girl reading a dirty magazine and smoking behind her father's back, amongst other things. She is sufficiently nubile and amply vocally agile to carry this part to near perfection. While leaving the two terminal high notes in the quartet and storm scene to others, she did all that was necessary in the 'Si vendetta' and 'Addio, addio' duets as well as her own show piece, 'Caro nome'.

The only things lacking were the off-stage dog barking in Act I (when disturbed by the first of two burglaries) and the smell of the pasta al forno. Perhaps that will take new technology - but if they can fry eggs on stage in Wagner's Ring anything is possible in the theatre!

Tenor Mr Ding Yi was confident if a little stiff at times. But he loosened up dramatically as well as vocally and was almost too nice to be the dastardly Duke of Mantua. His 'La donna e mobile' came off without a hitch, as did his subsequent off-stage lines, crucial to the plot.

Other parts were also taken by gifted singers: Sparafucile by Arend Baumann; Giovanna and Maddalena by Jacqueline Dark; Monterone by Michael Saunders. Each sang with distinction, making the performance balanced and exciting. The chorus members were especially good in the demanding 'Mafioso' and party roles assigned to them.

Under Johannes Fritzsch's baton the orchestra also sounded at their best. They appear to know and love this delicious score.

A wonderful night at the opera.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..