1:03 PM 24th January 2022
Opera Review: Verdi Rigoletto - Opera North
Opera North’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto: Jasmine Habersham as Gilda and Eric Greene as Rigoletto
Photo credit: Clive Barda
Despite its tragic denouement, this is a feel good production that magnificently highlights the power of opera as a medium to cross boundaries.
Femi Elufowoju Jr, who makes his opera-directing debut, created a production that sparkled in every way. It also marks a kind of homecoming because it was during his training at Bretton Hall, University of Leeds, that Femi had his first taste of Verdi.
Elufowoju has taken Verdi’s score, making it relevant to many issues of today. The political undercurrents made it even more compelling. Such prodigality and debauchery of the white privileged partygoers would certainly and rightly raise the concerns of the #MeToo community.
As the curtain lifted and the minimalist set transformed it was framed such that it could have been a Hogarth painting; apt, as he was a man known for his series paintings of "modern moral subjects".
The meticulous attention to technical detail was impressive. One could have been forgiven for thinking that the fussiness of the first act would spoil the other movements, but no, this was a great production and even the tiniest of movements were noticeable. We had a team of kidnappers who looked like they were from the Ghostbusters Inc, two policemen, and a food delivery person on bicycle.
Jasmine Habersham as Gilda
Photo credit: Clive Barda
Although to have Gilda with a toucan in her bedroom, only to then stroke the tail of a life-size zebra’s tail before sleeping on it, could have tipped the production into hyperbole.
Eric Greene as Rigoletto and Roman Arndt as Duke of Mantua
Elufowoju introduced two black artists to take on the roles of Rigoletto (Eric Greene) and Gilda (Jasmine Habersham). Habersham provided hypnotic singing and moments of beauty, especially the Caro nome.
Greene also had his moments, but the two Russians –Alyona Abramova as Maddalena, and Roman Arndt as the Duke of Mantua – gave good performances too.
Photo credit: Clive Bardair Willard White as Monterone
Willard White as Count Monterone gave the role presence as he cursed Rigoletto and was dressed by Rae Smith as set and costume designer in a rather excellent agbada. The kitsch set and design worked well.
The orchestra under Garry Walker demonstrated the quality we all associate with Opera North. His understanding of the score made for some lovely moments in all sections not least the wind. And the excellent chorus provided pace.
Despite everything that was going on, it was a compelling and engaging production.
The production runs in Leeds until 19th February after which it tours to The Lowry at Salford Quays, Nottingham, Newcastle, and Hull, together with a new production of Handel's Alcina directed by Tim Albery and Edward Dick's Carmen which opened the autumn season.