Having just arrived back from Tuscany and beset by pasta-prosecco withdrawal symptoms, I was keen to attend the Opera Theatre Company’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto,’ at An Grianan theatre Donegal last night.
Not that I’m an opera aficionado. Theatre would be more my cuppa tea – but then again so was soccer for most of my adult life, until I realised how wimpy and unexciting a game it was compared to rugby – so on the drive to the northwest Irish town of Letterkenny, I was open to change in my choice of theatrical preference.
As it turned out, while ‘Rigoletto’ may not have persuaded me to spontaneously switch from theatre to opera, it proved to be a most entertaining evening, utterly dispelling the notion that opera is in any way ‘old-fashioned’ with a highly dramatic and innovative set created by Alex Lowde transporting Verdi’s classic from the medieval to the post-modern in a colourful, visual instant. Credit also goes to the show’s acclaimed director Selina Cartmell, winner of the ‘Best Director Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards,’ Sinead Wallace for lighting design and Irish playwright, Marina Carr, for contemporary translation from Italian to English.
Imagine an opera opening with an animated cartoon playing on a small television screen centre stage in front of a big boxing ring, then three pretty women appearing at a balcony in skimpy bikinis wearing rabbit heads and you get some idea of what I mean by innovation. Aside from such delightful surprises, diverse stage props also included a pinball machine, a billiard table, several iron cages and a peculiar turquoise portaloo (in which, within minutes of the curtain rising, two people are engaged in fellatio), not to mention a plethora of yellow rabbits – not real ones, but oversized stuffed ones and rabbit garments worn by cast members. The symbolism of such caused considerable debate among those around me during the interval, with some saying they represented the loss of innocence and others alter egos. No definitive conclusion was drawn but it made for lively debate, a hallmark of all good entertainment.
Based on Victor Hugo’s play, Verdi’s story is of a father, Rigoletto, trying to protect his naive, only daughter, Gilda, from a seductive, selfish crime boss called ‘The Duke.’ No opportunities are missed in portraying the latter and his crowd of cronies as real lowlifes, with cocaine tossed around like confetti, drunken talk in abundance and, even The Duke, played by Brazilian tenor Luciano Botelho, stripping to his underpants and donning plastic talons and an eagle’s headmask for some kinky sex with one of his ‘bitches’ on a massage table.
Albeit not being well versed on the standards and protocol of opera, I found the singing to be of a high quality, with the main characters – Northern Irish baritone Bruno Caproni in the title role, soprano Emma Nash as Gilda and Botelho, particularly outstanding. Credible emotive context was sometimes lacking but I suppose it is somewhat unfair to expect a performer to be a wonderful opera singer and an equally wonderful actor.
Botelho, however, did very well in both categories as the epitome of vanity and there were occasions when the facial expressions of Nash and Caproni were particularly moving, especially in the sad scenes. The acoustics of An Grianan theatre proved somewhat unsuitable for this opera production as it proved frustrating trying to understand the characters’ words, especially in the first half. Translated from Italian into English, I also found the sentiments in the singing to be overly banal and sometimes even rhythmless. As they were hard to hear anyway, perhaps it would have been better to leave them in their original Italian.
While pre-show pasta was not served, prosecco was – a complementary glass for everyone, a lovely gesture by the theatre that certainly helped ease my withdrawal symptoms.