By Giuseppe Verdi. Opera Australia. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. July 6 - August 24, 2018

Opera Australia sure enjoys its Elijah Moshinsky productions. When superstar Verdi specialist Leo Nucci pulled out from the role of Rigoletto, it wasn’t just the cast that changed. The company also chose to switch its revival to Moshinsky’s crowd-pleasing interpretation, famous for its La Dolce Vita-inspired design. First staged in 1991, the production brought an opulence to this dark work and it was a little Italian minor that stole the scene in the third act.

Moshinsky is very good at executing high-drama concepts and show-stopping set reveals. In some ways, this production is too slick, with a thick razzle-dazzle coating over this deeply disturbing drama. Designer Michael Yeargan’s revolving set is stunning and his stage is full of colour, with wonderful costumes, but that is sometimes at the cost of dramatic power.

Musically, the drama remains intense throughout. Conductor Renato Palumbo gets the best out of one of Verdi’s most popular scores. The melodies underscore each character here, from Irina Lungu’s defenceless Gilda (with her beautiful, innocent arias) to Dalibor Jenis’s tragic Rigoletto and Gianluca Terranova’s cocky, selfish Duke.

The performances are impressive. Jenis packs in all the complexity of a desperate man hoping to make it in this world, but his fate doomed by a curse. Not that he can avoid responsibility for what he puts his daughter through. Jenis makes Rigoletto sympathetic but distasteful at the same time.

The star Russian soprano Lungu shows amazing control with some stunning melodies. Her voice soars, sometimes hitting the high notes with unexpected vulnerability rather than power. She almost steals the show. But Terranova is also effortless with the show’s most famous number “La donna è mobile” and Jenis is not to be upstaged. The chorus, too, is very strong.

Verdi’s music has ensured that this dated story of an innocent woman with no power over her destiny has lived on. Victor Hugo’s play on which it is based is long forgotten. 

But it’s the music that’s front and centre here. This revival hits all the right musical notes and with a brilliant style that audiences just want to see again.

Peter Gotting

Photographer: Jeff Busby

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