United Kingdom Verdi: Rigoletto: Heritage Opera, Jonathan Ellis (pianist/musical director), Preston Minster, 13.4.2012 (MC)
Duke of Mantua: Nicholas Sales (tenor)
Rigoletto: Mark Saberton (baritone)
Gilda: Sarah Helsby Hughes (soprano)
Sparafucile/Count Monterone: Thomas Eaglen (baritone)
Maddalena: Lilly Papaioannou (mezzo soprano)
Borsa: Darren Clarke (tenor)
Count Ceprano: Dan Woodhouse
Countess Ceprano/Page: Caroline Lester
Marullo: Matthew Palmer
Girl: Heather Lupton
Director: Sarah Helsby Hughes
Scenic director: Tom Eaglen
Company Manager: Nick Sales
Stage Manager: Claire Litton
Walking through Preston City centre on Friday evening can be an eye opener with all the exuberance and occasional rowdiness of partying young people spilling out onto the streets from the lively bars. The young revellers can have had little clue about the feasting and drunken cavorting that had been happening just a short distance away inside Preston Minster in its guise as the Duke of Mantua’s Lombardy Palace in sixteenth century Italy. After staging the world première of Jonathon Dove’s chamber opera Mansfield Park and Bizet’s highly popular opera Carmen in 2011 for their Spring production Heritage Opera have turned to Verdi’s much loved opera Rigoletto a dark tale of murder and intrigue sung in English. Its libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo was sung in an English translation by Sarah Helsby Hughes.
Soon after the curtain had been raised the excellent Nicholas Sales as the lascivious Duke of Mantua at his wild and debauched party delivered the well known opening aria known as Questa o quella (This girl or that girl). The Duke also has the justly famous aria La donna è mobile (Women are fickle) with Sale’s light, sweet voiced tenor leaving a fine impression as the bumptious and predatory nobleman. In her role as the vulnerable Gilda the daughter of the jester Rigoletto, soprano Sarah Helsby Hughes sang her aria Caro nome (Dearest name) with taste and expression demonstrating a fine coloratura. As Gilda lies dying her aria V’ho ingannato (I deceived you) was suitably moving. Demonstrating significant natural stage presence Mark Saberton was in his element as the physically deformed hunchback Rigoletto the bitingly tongued court jester who cleverly demonstrated the softer side of his character as the loving and protective father of Gilda. Saberton’s expressive rendition of Pari siamo! (We are alike!) was a highlight of the production.
The supporting cast impressed – in particular, sturdy baritone Thomas Eaglen as the shady Sparafucile. I look forward to seeing more of tenor Darren Clarke, such a splendid actor, who played Borsa in a more substantial part. Worthy of mention is the impressive Lilly Papaioannou as Maddalena who made the most of her part pleading for her brother Sparafucile to spare the life of the lecherous Duke. I must single out for special praise the marvellously done final scene where Gilda lies dying in the arms of her tormented father Rigoletto. In addition Jonathan Ellis gave a fine performance on the piano.
With an extremely limited budget to work with the set was a testament to the company’s ingenuity. However, I would have felt more comfortable with one or two more substantial props. More than once I felt for the cast members who had to climb the wobbly ladder and the makeshift bench looked as if it would collapse at any minute. At the start of the opera everything felt rather rushed and the stage seemed much too congested. Any worries I may have had proved unfounded as the proceedings soon settled down into one of the most satisfying productions by Heritage Opera I have attended.