REVIEW: Rigoletto (NBR NZ Opera)

Sparafucile (Ashraf Sewailam) in his element threatening Maddalena (Kristin Darragh) Photo by Neil Mackenzie

Decadence, drama and death [by Sharu Delilkan]

Sparafucile (Ashraf Sewailam) in his element threatening Maddalena (Kristin Darragh) Photo by Neil Mackenzie

As I walked into the newly renovated ASB Theatre at the Aotea Centre it was impossible not to notice that the carpets had been replaced by the bright parquet flooring and new seats. The light and airy feel gave the theatre the added bit of cheer, which was much needed on an otherwise dull and dreary Auckland evening.

But of course the most dramatic and notable change was the installation of acoustic panels, which proved to be a massive improvement and embellished the opera’s brilliance. And the theatricality of the entire production of NBR NZ Opera’s Rigoletto also complemented the newly fitted theatre, in keeping with their interpretation of the classic opera set in modern day Italy.

Italian romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi’s timeless heart-breaking tale of love and deception that premièred in 1851 translates perfectly to the era of Silvio Berlusconi, supporting NBR New Zealand Opera’s policy of bringing old war horses to life again.

Once we were all settled in our seats not a moment was lost, with the pace being ramped up from the get-go. It was a veritable roller-coaster ride for the audience right from the opening scene with Rigoletto sitting solitarily on the sofa to the dramatic tragic conclusion –the hallmark of a classic opera.

Director Lindy Hume’s reputation precedes her for productions that are intelligent and well thought out. This smart approach works a treat allowing the singers to achieve exemplary performances, which includes the very effective all-male Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus with their amazing stage presence.

Following outstanding performances in The Italian Girl in Algiers and Cav & Pag, Australia’s highly acclaimed baritone, Warwick Fyfe, endeared himself to the audience clad in his shabby cardigan complete with a hump back, with his perfectly pitched baritone as the central character Rigoletto. Fyfe was brilliantly balanced by the talented soprano Emma Pearson, whose vocal agility made for a very convincing and beautiful Gilda.

Despite the announcement that Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas would not perform Ella mi fu rapita due to illness, his first aria at the beginning of the second half, it didn’t matter because it meant that the philandering Duke of Mantua could belt out the famous aria, La donne mobile.

I particularly liked the native-Egyptian Ashraf Sewailam’s booming bass-baritone who deftly commanded the stage as the hired killer Sparafucile. And of course not to mention New Zealand baritone Rodney Macann who played the impeccable Count Monterone. We are also fortunate to be able to enjoy the melodious mezzo soprano Kristin Darragh, the suitably saucy woman of the night Maddalena, who has returned especially from her German base to grace us with her presence.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention yet another star of the show – which was clearly the excellently extravagant revolving set which worked a treat using length, breath and height of the stage splendidly. Special commendation goes to production designer Richard Roberts and his creative team for a magnificently seamless set. The astute accompaniment of the equally effective lighting was heightened by Jason Morphett dramatic lighting design.

Last but definitely not least, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra shone under the baton of Wyn Davies, bringing all the strands together. This was perfectly accented by the fabulous rapport between the performers on stage and the impeccable musicians, giving the show the its added sparkle.

It is not often that a production is so completely fulfilling and flawless at the same time. A must see by all accounts.

NBR NZ Opera’s Rigoletto plays at ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre until 17 June. Details see NBR New Zealand Opera

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