Rigoletto tells the tale of an overprotective father, his teenage daughter who falls for the wrong man, and a narcissistic tyrant who abuses his power. The Duke, a debauched rake, is the absolute ruler in Mantua. His court jester, Rigoletto, earns his Lord’s favour by encouraging and sharing his depravity. He cruelly makes fun of everyone who suffers at the hands of the Duke, earning him the fear and hatred of Mantua’s inhabitants. When he mocks an old gentleman who complains about his daughter’s ruin, the old man curses him, and Rigoletto is in shock: he has a daughter, the only beautiful thing in his life, and he is terrified she will be victimised by the Duke’s courtiers. This view of women as mere objects, used by men to hurt each other, is a central theme of this opera. Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter, falls in love with the Duke; but what happens between them is never explained in any detail because the only important information is that she “loses her honour” and is therefore damaged goods. Upon learning that the Duke is a womaniser who never cared about her, she saves his life and dies for him.

Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (Rigoletto)
© Markus Gårder

By 1851, Verdi had reached his maturity, and Rigoletto is a showcase of the best he has to offer, making the outdated plot bearable and believable. The Royal Swedish Opera presented a new production by Sofia Jupither, which transported the action to a generic, modern era where all the men wear dark suits and the women wear plain, long dresses. In Act 1, we were supposed to see a wild party at the Duke’s palace (Monterone calls it “an orgy”), but instead, we were presented with a room whose sole furnishing was a gigantic table at which the courtesans and the Duke were sitting, composed and immobile. Women were successively posed on the table, admired and demeaned, fed morsels of food in a sexualised way, and forced to kiss each other – all with a paucity of movement that contrasted with the lively, agitated music. The same room, wrecked by an enraged Duke, reappeared in Act 2with the discovery of Gilda at the palace. Acts 2 and Act 3 both presented a floor-to-ceiling wall a short distance into the stage. The action took place in this cramped space, which gave a claustrophobic feeling. The obvious inconsistencies of the staging did not promote the story; for example, the bright light in a scene where darkness is supposed to prevent Rigoletto from recognising his own house; or Gilda not seeing the Duke approaching when he is in plain sight. The acting, however, was considerably better: all the singers managed to convey strong emotions.

Rigoletto at Royal Swedish Opera
© Markus Gårder

Lionel Bringuier led the Royal Swedish Orchestra in a somewhat generic reading of the score. He supported the singers throughout, albeit some tempi seemed to be a bit slow, such as “Piangi fanciulla”.

Karl-Magnus Fredriksson was a noble, measured Rigoletto. His technique did not seem to be in its best shape; he tended to draw breath more often than one would expect. The character was nevertheless carefully depicted, and his interpretation was enjoyable. Leonardo Capalbo enlivened a psychopathic Duke; a deranged bully inebriated with power. At the same time, his love for Gilda was real, his fascination with her youth and her innocence a sign of his tragic inability to experience real human relationships. Capalbo’s tenor was generous, bold and fearless, perfect for the Duke. His emission sounded somewhat strained at times, as if he wasn’t in his best form (he had been announced ill on opening night only a few days earlier). Nevertheless, his performance was a great success, confirming his deep understanding of Verdi’s music. Gilda was Ida Falk Winland, a young Swedish singer with a brilliant, silvery soprano, perfect for the role. Her high notes were strong and confident, and her phrasing delicate and thoughtful.

Leonardo Capalbo (Duke) and Ida Falk Winland (Gilda)
© Markus Gårder

The Royal Swedish Chorus was one of the best performers of the evening: they were well prepared and always on point, both in dynamics and tempi, which can be quite a challenge in Rigoletto. John Eleby was a menacing, well sung Sparafucile, and Katarina Leoson contributed to the famous quartet with a deep, well projected mezzo. Kristian Flor, as Monterone, made an impression in his brief appearances, his bass well projected, admirably conveying the father’s rage and anguish.