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A Repellent Fascination

State Theatre
05/11/2019 -  & May 15, 18, 22, 25, 27, 29, 2019
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Amartuvshin Enkhbat (Rigoletto), Liparit Avetisyan (Duke of Mantua), Stacey Alleaume (Gilda), Gennadi Dubinsky (Monterone), Roberto Scandiuzzi (Sparafucile), Sian Sharp (Maddalena), Luke Gabbedy (Marullo), Virgilio Marino (Borsa), Christopher Hillier (Ceprano), Dominica Matthews (Giovanna), Leah Thomas (Countess Ceprano), Jennifer Bonner (Page), Ryan Sharp (Usher)
Opera Australia Chorus, Anthony Hunt (Chorus Master), Orchestra Victoria, Andrea Licata (Conductor)
Elijah Moshinsky (Director), Hugh Halliday (Revival Director), Michael Yeargan (Set & Costume Designer), Robert Bryan (Lighting Designer)

A. Enkhbat, S. Alleaume (© Jeff Busby)

Overlooking their more recent production of Rigoletto, Opera Australia opened this Melbourne season with a revival of their immensely popular 1991 Elijah Moshinsky production; and what a crowd-pleaser it turned out to be. This visually splendid realisation evokes Fellini’s La dolce vita replete with mobsters, a brothel and oozing sleaze from every pore. Mantua is gripped by a low-life monster who regards women as playthings and everyone as disposable. The Duke and his court are as repulsive as they are mesmerising, urging one another on to increasing levels of degradation and piling up the bodies of their conquests. Sumptuously costumed, the court consumes women, wine and eventually their own kind as dispensable commodities. Against this background of toxic masculinity, it becomes only a matter of time before they turn on Rigoletto as their next plaything; and logical that they should pick his naïve young daughter as the tool of his humiliation.

This production gives a lineal progression to a sometimes fragmented plot. From the outset, Gilda is the epitome of a daydreaming, love-struck teenager who is not as innocent as her father likes to believe. Sneaking a furtive cigarette or a sip of wine, she has secrets and conspiracies best kept from a doting parent. It is logical that she encourages her boyfriend to steal into the house; logical too that she loves her abductor despite his mistreatment; and, inevitable that she would offer herself as the substitute victim to save him. Her progression towards surrender made all the more poignant by the Duke’s ignorance of her sacrifice borne out of his sociopathic disregard of everyone other than sources of his immediate pleasure. This production offers no redemption; the sleaze and the mobsters win out and there is no hint that they will ever get the penalties for which Monterone and Rigoletto prayed. Mr Moshinsky’s production is superlative story-telling and the designs by Michael Yeargan juxtapose the elegant sumptuousness of the palace with the grime of the back streets and the depravity of the inhabitants.

Making his OA debut, young Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat establishes his character from the outset as torn between what he must do and what he wants for his child. His immensely rich and burnished voice spans a vast range and contains such a variety of colours that he continued to imbue the role with new tones and shades until the finale. He booms with rage and cries with despair and for such a young performer to have captured the nuances and complexities of the character is surprising and clear testament to the number of awards and honours he has achieved in such a short career. Confident, entirely at home within the role and with a clear sense of his ability to dominate the stage, this was a remarkable debut and points towards a young performer to watch closely.

Returning to OA after his 2017 performances of Germont, Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan is the very embodiment of the Duke. All swagger and macho thrill-seeker, he controls those around him by subtle and practiced means. A glare, a gesture, a simple point of the finger and he brings everyone under his rule. No man is secure as his gaze may change at any minute; and, no woman is safe from the roving glance which turns them into one of his toys. Mr Avetisyan captured this character perfectly. His agile and brilliant voice conjuring a stellar range of hues while projecting a carefully modulated sense of power. His performance made it entirely plausible that the gullible Gilda would fall for him.

Melbourne soprano Stacey Alleaume has “come up through the ranks” of OA: from chorus to principal artist has been a seven year journey but this role debut marks her out as a new star on the rise. Not only does she look the part of the teenage ingénue but she is able to project a vocal tone which suggests youth and naivety. Physically, she makes full use of the stage personifying a teenage restlessness, an urge to break away from the restrictions of her father’s house. Her voice is ravishing and radiant; the Caro nome delivered with crystalline precision, soaring to a dazzling upper range with ease and amplitude. Ms Alleaume gave a fine performance which the audience received with wild enthusiasm.

Out of a uniformly strong “luxury casting” of the minor characters, renowned Italian bass Roberto Scandiuzzi’s portrayal of Sparafucile was a stand out. His voice is massive, carrying such weight and authority that it is hard not to imagine him as the evil-doer. Yet, he managed to infuse his character with a suave casualness, paralleling the Duke’s disregard of people in his ability to dispose of them on a whim. Mr Scandiuzzi brings to OA an immense depth of knowledge of this role in particular and the Verdi repertoire more generally. It is very pleasing to see him return to the company for this third consecutive season.

Australia continues to draw Italian maestro Andrea Licata, another Verdi specialist whose extensive work in Europe and beyond brings understanding and skills of great benefit to the company as a whole. He drew robust performances from both orchestra and chorus, leading with clarity and precision throughout.

This is an old production which has previously been hailed as a “must-see” show. Given its intelligent interpretation of the characters and the clarity of the story-telling it is not at all difficult to imagine this as the perfect introduction to the operatic art form for new-comers while offering great delights for the experienced audience.

Gregory Pritchard



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