Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

SEVEN years on from Matthew Richardson’s production of Verdi’s melodrama of lust and seduction for Scottish Opera first appearing on the Theatre Royal stage, its revival looks precisely targeted to address the way the toxicity of male power has been revealed in the news, with the Duke of Mantua a Weinstein, Cosby or Berlusconi of his era. Far from simplifying the dynamic of the opera, however, those contemporary parallels seem to have drawn thoughtful and nuanced performances from the singers in a staging that is often most notable for its acting.

In the title role as court jester Rigoletto, a cynical procurer for his boss but obsessive protector of his daughter Gilda, Greek baritone Aris Argiris brings a sympathetic Zero Mostel-approach to a show filled with other references to 20th century American culture like Broadway musicals and film noir. Tenor Adam Smith also gives the Duke some impression of sincere self-delusion in his devotion to “love” so that the expression of true beliefs in La donna e mobile in the third act is all the more striking.

There is complexity of character in the women as well, with Lina Johnson’s child-like Gilda, girlishly balancing on a window sill for her Act 1 aria, learning the awfulness of men fatally fast but not losing her emotional naivety, and Sioned Gwen Davies seen making herself up to become scarlet-frocked seductress Maddelena behind the Duke’s back.

Of a cast that has half a dozen company debuts, Johnson walks off with the vocal honours from that “Caro nome” until the bleak, bare-stage final scene. Argiris was not on top form, suffering from a cold for which the indulgence of the audience was requested at the start, and Smith seems to lack the chops to deal with one of the most demanding and familiar tenor roles in the repertoire. The quartet that follows his big number was very fine indeed, however, and the two dozen-strong male chorus are a glory of this production, while conductor Rumon Gamba and the orchestra are on top form in the pit.