Review: Rigoletto

Marina Carr’s new translation puts Rigoletto in the ring: can the formidable back room team whip it into shape for a knockout?

National Opera House, Wexford

Commercials run on a TV screen at the front of the stage before the opera starts. The setting is a contemporary sports club, with a boxing ring smack in the centre, a portaloo on one side (used for semi-secluded sexual acts as well as other activities), an arcade game machine, and a glass-fronted office with a motorised shutter up the stairs at the back, where sex also takes place.

There are scantily-clad girls (including one cross dresser) who posture and gyrate provocatively, and whose functions include the arms-high display of cards dividing the opera into 10 "Rounds". The question is this: do director Selina Cartmell, designer Alex Lowde, and everyone else in this Opera Theatre Company production of Verdi's Rigoletto score a knockout or win on points?

Rigoletto, of course, is an opera with a famous quartet, which prompted no less a figure than the great tenor Enrico Caruso the remark that all you needed to stage it were "the four best singers in the world".

Nobody expects OTC to manage that. But they do have in Emma Nash a Gilda who takes everything effortlessly in her stride, though sometimes a little stridently so. In Luciano Botelho there is an efficient, heartless Duke, who shows a cruel blend of vocal appeal and reprehensible behaviour.

In Bruno Caproni, there is a larger-than-life Rigoletto, put-upon and vengeful in public, a humane father in private, whose fate is to set up the sequence of events that will cause him to lose his daughter. And in Kate Allen there is a solid Maddalena, the other woman through whom Rigoletto vainly hopes to enlighten his sheltered daughter about the philandering nature of the man she has fallen in love with.

The world of this Rigoletto is full of contemporary references. Duracell bunnies not only appear on the TV screen, but also physically in the boxing ring. The kidnappers kit up as Rubberbandits before making off with Gilda as their prey.

The sheer detail with which it’s all carried through is impressive. But the music-making doesn’t quite gell. Fergus Sheil’s conducting of Francis Griffin’s reduction of Verdi’s original has moments of real sonic splendour, but it’s more than a little stiff and often anything but musically Italianate in style. And a high proportion of the words of Marina Carr’s new translation don’t make it clearly into the auditorium.

I’m not sure it’s an OTC hand which an imaginary referee would hold up at the end of the bout. The whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

Tour until May 30th

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor