Glyndebourne Tour 2019 Rigoletto - Milton Keynes Theatre (
Giuseppe Verdi was a
Shakespeare obsessive and spent many years trying to put together an opera
based on King Lear. He abandoned the idea but his immersion in the study of
tragedy resulted in his own masterpiece: Rigoletto. a portrait of a man caught
in a corrupt world, the escape from which can only be obtained through

Jester to the Duke of
Mantua, Rigoletto wields his wit like a knife. His mocking of Count Monterone after
the duke’s seduction of Monterone’s daughter results in a curse that
conditions Rigoletto’s subsequent life. He seeks revenge on his
employer for kidnapping and seducing Gilda, the daughter he loves and has kept
hidden away from the intrigue of court life. The fact that Rigoletto was
tricked into helping the duke to do so adds to the darkness to come.

The tale, based on a
Victor Hugo play, brought out in the score what we now think of classic Verdi
but was revolutionary for the time: a constant throbbing menace providing a black
background for memorable tunes such as ‘La donna e mobile’. In this Glyndebourne
production Thomas Blunt’s control of the orchestra and the score is the
foundation for the many musical delights of the evening.

Georgian baritone Nikoloz Lagvilava has great vocal style in the title role, though
many would say there’s more to acting though than occasionally looking a bit
goggle-eyed at the horror of it all. Gilda is played with panache by Vuvu Mpofu
the South African soprano. Act One saw her struggle a bit with the lower
registers but from  ‘Tutte le feste al tempio’ in
Act Two she soared. Top marks of the night go to Italian tenor Matteo Lippi as
the duke. His singing is consistently sweet and powerful conveying the swagger
of a character who has more testosterone than his trousers can bear. The Russian
bass Oleg Budaratskiy is greasily menacing as the assassin Sparafucile.

But what
distinguishes this production in the setting. Not for director Christine Lutz
the mores of 16th century Italian court life; she has chosen to
transpose the action to the Hollywood of the silent era. The duke is a studio
owner, Rigoletto a Chaplinesque figure and, among the cameras and studio
paraphernalia, courtiers become a collection of PRs, lighting men, gofers and


In the
age of the Weinstein scandal and #metoo, this should carry substantial weight
but in many ways it fails to engage. Sure, Lutz has some good ideas – her interpretation
that Gilda is perhaps the child of Monterone’s daughter brings a hint of the horror of incest to
the duke’s seduction and the fact that Rigoletto has looked after Gilda for 17
years adds weight to the enduring power of the curse.

But some of the innovation
is plain confusing.  Why, during the
overture, does a man
take most of his clothes off and scribble on the floor? Why does this character
appear during an emotional scene and start scrubbing? Why is there newsreel of
a much older Rigoletto –  ‘Charlie’ being

There’s a certain
clumsiness too. The moment when the curse bears its tragic fruit and the
curtain falls on the devastated Rigoletto is one of the great moments in opera;
by having older versions of the duke and the jester stab each other to death at
the same point seems a senseless over-egging.


It’s bold, brave experiment
that doesn’t quite work. But the music is forever and well worth the price of


Rigoletto is at Milton
Keynes Theatre on Saturday Nov 16 at 7.15pm