RIGOLETTO at Bristol Hippodrome

In prospect Rigoletto offers so much: sex, debauchery, murder, love and satire on the ruling classes explored in the working out of a curse.  The story (Francesco Maria Piave, based on Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo) in its mechanics is full of delicious ironies, mistaken identities, malice and deceit. So much so good.  Added to which the production wants for nothing in ambition. The curtain goes up on a vast hall in the ducal palace. A Renaissance painting comes to life; The School of Athens (say) becomes a scene of debauchery with a bumptiously indulgent, self-satisfied and self-serving Duke; voluptuary-in-chief amongst a court of ne’re-do-wells, surrounded by pink flesh, dogs and an eagle.  It is however, the politest orgy you are likely to ogle with hardly a hint of a slap or a tickle. Last night was the premiere of a production that had been rehearsing in Moldova so there is perhaps a chance that the cast will ease themselves out of their coyness and into the spirit of the thing as the tour progresses.

Fortunately the Duke (Vitalii Liskovetskyi) can sing and with a piercing tenor that gives some authority to his curiously boyish looks (I blame the wig) as he struts confidently about, singing the virtues of the nineteenth century version of ‘the lad’s bible’.  Meanwhile Rigoletto (Iurie Gisca), the malicious, hunchbacked gadlfy, loping amongst the guests, mercilessly taunts the cuckolded husband of one and shamed father of another of the Duke’s conquests. It is a lesson in how to make enemies and the scene ends with the father issuing the curse upon Rigoletto which will play out the rest of the story.  Mr Gisca has a fine, powerful and flexible baritone, which enables him to encompass both the malice and pathos of his character.

The kidnap scene in which the courtiers capture Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter, whom they mistake for his lover, is a little clumsily staged with the tricking (blindfolding) of Rigoletto outside his own home lacking in any conviction. Aside from this Ellen Kent directs with an eye for pictorial clarity leaving the music, under Vasyl Vasylenko and the National President’s Orchestra of Ukraine, to carry the emotional burden of the opera.

Alyona Kistenyova as Gilda, has the task of making this easily seduced young girl, who apparently falls for the first man to talk to her – the disguised reprobate Duke, so consumed with love that she is willing to lay down her life to protect him from her father’s scheme of revenge.  The fact that she has a beautiful voice and sings with great passion goes a long way to accommodating our credulity, but it remains a weakness in the plot that perhaps pays more regard to the curse than any concession to naturalism.  Again some time ‘on the road’ may lead to a chemical reaction between the two.

This is a solid production with a strong cast of voices and a top class orchestra, which will serve well the many who may come to this great work for the first time.   ★★★☆☆   Graham Wyles   19th January 2018