Monday, 28 June 2010

Rigoletto WMC Opening Night

Reconstructing Oscar Wilde - To have one internationally anticipated role debut with WNO is exciting, to have two is exciting-exciting. While the majority of the headlines and excitement has understandably been diverted towards Bryn Terfel's Hans Sachs Simon Keenlyside has also been nose to the grindstoning it for his first Rigoletto. It's been a while since Keenlyside last appeared with WNO, in which time he has enjoyed a successful and notable career with as much praise lavished on him for his acting as well as his vocal performances and Rigoletto is certainly a role that requires plenty of the Brandos. The stage was set...

If there's one thing you're guaranteed with a Keenlyside performance it's utter conviction in what he's doing and on Friday he didn't disappoint, bringing to life a tricky character to portray. Playing a seedy fixer for his boss, a 1960's US President, he looked the part dressed in checked suit, and bowed and hobbling about the stage much to the cruel liking of the WNO chorus (in fine voice again). The frustration, the malevolence, the love of the character seeped out of his every physical motion and you would have a hard time in finding a better acted Rigoletto. But this is Keenlyside's debut in the role and as much as the acting was spot on, there were suggestions that the vocal side of things may need a bit more tweaking with regards to pacing as he fell a tiny bit short of the kind of vocal conviction that is needed at the more dramatic moments towards the end of the performance. Though, to be fair, there were hints that he may have been suffering from the same chest infection that did for another member of the cast.

And who was the chest infectee? Eliciting a heartfelt Aw, bugger from my hair the news that Gwyn Hughes Jones was out of the cast put a dampener on the evening before the music had begun. Although GHG's replacement, New Zealander Shaun Dixon, gave an enjoyable performance as the Duke I was hankering after a bit more bite and passion in the singing, especially since he was portraying a hot to trot US President. Sarah Coburn, bedecked in a Doris Day wig that on times had a life of its own, gave a Gilda that was certainly not lacking in passion. I'll admit that though I enjoyed her performance I did have a problem with her vibrato that fluttered more than I would have liked. But this is only a personal foible and the cheers the American received at the curtain call were proof of an enthusiastically received performance. As Sparafucile David Soar was utterly convincing as the hitman for hire prowling the streets of downtown Washington D.C. The poise and security of his farewell note at the end of his first appearance was a sheer delight and he carried the quality through the rest of his performance. More please.

A quick note on the production - I'm a big fan of updating opera to more modern times and was looking forward to this production. Though I still have no major arguments with the decision to set it in the world of sixties American politics I do have reservations of setting up the Duke as the US President simply due to believability. The reason why the Duke can get away with acting the student in the original setting is that there was a slight lack of televisions, photographs and general media in those days. Bringing it forward to the 20th century should be done with a recognition of this significant fact and that perhaps the Duke could have been set up as being someone not quite so close to the top as it would have taken more than a scarf to disguise a JFK or a Tricky Dicky in my books. But overall it was a good idea,and the closing scene with a heavy whiff of Goodfellas was riveting in its dramatic tension.

Overall it's more than worth the trip out, and with the addition of GHJ to the cast I wish I wasn't otherwise engaged for the remaining Cardiff performances.


  1. No fair i need to work :-( you were way quicker than me, what do i write about now??? ;-) especially since i agree with what you say :-) but really what is up with everyone reviewing so quickly?? this is Wahn Wahn Wahn!!!!! ;-)

  2. As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm - or in my case the early bird catches the maggot :)) I'm pretty sure yours will be just a tiny bit more interesting to read than mine!

  3. Take it easy you both, there are worms (or maggots) for everyone !

  4. @Kenderina I was about to have a spot of lunch, but I think I'll hold off until wriggling insects have left my mind... :)