United Kingdom Verdi, Rigoletto: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Russian State Opera of Komi / Azat Maksutov, (conductor), Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 13.2.2014. (RJ)
Rigoletto: Andrei Birsenko (Dmitrii Karatraev)
Duke of Mantua: Ivan Snigirev (Damir Zakirov)
Gilda: Oxana Klipka (Tayana Zakirova, Elena Lodyigina)
Sparafucile: Nikolai Glebov
Maddalena: Galina Malikova
Giovanna: Tamara Savchenko
Monterone: Anatoly Izmalkov
Marullo: Andrei Kovalev
Borsa: Genadii Muralev
Count Ceprano: Vitalii Gudovskii
Countess Ceprano: Olga Martyusheva
Page: Ekaterina Paneva
Director: Boris Lagoda
Set Design: Yuri Samodurov
Lighting Design: Nelli Svatova
Chorus Master: Nataliya Masanova
I cannot help admiring the ambition and stamina of this opera company currently crisscrossing the UK by coach in a series of one night stands with their production of Rigoletto. They seem to be performing at as many theatres in a month as English Touring Opera manages in a year. I wonder how they find time to sleep, especially the technical staff who need to erect and dismantle two complicated sets each day. Only the singers of the three principal roles have the luxury of days off.
At the performance I attended – towards the end of the first week of the tour it was the youthful looking Ivan Snigirev’s turn to play the womanising Duke of Mantua, which he did very convincingly. Even when he was singing the passionate duet “Addio speranza ad anima” with Gilda one had a sneaky feeling he had not completely finished sowing his wild oats. What a contrast with the obvious sincerity (and gullibility, perhaps) of Oxana Klipka, an enchanting Gilda who looked fragile and innocent in her heart-rending performance of “Caro nome che il mio cor”!
Andrei Birsenko in the title role was everything a Rigoletto should be – an object of loathing and pity, a schemer and a tortured soul. While his sharp ironic tongue wins him no favours, beneath the brusque exterior there is a tenderness verging on possessiveness for his daughter. their relationship exquisitely conveyed in their duet “Piangi, fanciulla”. Birsenko exposed with great subtlety the contradictions in the character.
The supporting cast (who never get nights off!) also made a strong impact, including the chorus of happy-go-lucky, mischief-making courtiers. Nikolai Glebov was a suitably sinister Sparafucile, a creature of the shadows, but the most outstanding contribution came from Anatoly Izmalkov as the half-crazed Count Monterone whose daughter has been dishonoured by the Duke. As he denounces Rigoletto for mocking him, rarely have I heard a curse so calculated to inspire terror in everybody, not only Rigoletto.
The 30 piece orchestra is adequate for most of the provincial theatres the company will play in, though I was not happy with some of the brisk tempi employed by conductor Azat Maksutov in the opening scene. Director Boris Lagoda has opted for a traditional production which works well for the most part. The lighting effects seemed to be well above par for a touring production, for which Nelli Svatova deserves credit; the night scenes and the murder of Gilda was especially well handled.
This came over as a thoroughly professional traditional production of a Verdi masterpiece with few flaws, and the hardworking team deserved the warm applause they received. However, the real challenge for the Russians is whether they are able to retain their vitality and freshness right up to the final performance of their gruelling tour – on March 7th in Tunbridge Wells.
The tour continues to Newcastle, Darlington, Dorking, Hastings, London, Peterborough, Stevenage, Harrogate, Chesterfield, Stafford, Carlisle, Halifax, Clacton on Sea, Swindon, Stockport, Blackburn, Shrewsbury, Tunbridge Wells. The company returns in the autumn with La Traviata.
NB This production should not be confused with the Ellen Kent Productions’ Rigoletto which is also currently touring in repertoire with Madama Butterfly and La Traviata.