Art deco gilt lines on the doors and staircases, Charleston dresses, trilbies and spats abounded in a set that could have been made for The Great Gatsby. This was a Rigoletto unmistakably set in the 1920s. The foreboding orchestral overture set the scene up further as ensemble members unveiled a golden figurehead statue designed to sit upon the chrome radiator of a classic sports car from ‘Duke’s Automobiles’. Fog pervaded the foot of the stage and dim yellow lighting accompanied, leaving shadows from which gangsters and molls could emerge amidst a lack of accountability.

Longborough Festival Opera's <i>Rigoletto</i> © Matthew Williams-Ellis
Longborough Festival Opera's Rigoletto
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

From the outset there were two worlds: one flamboyant, carefree and glitzy; the other dark, murky, sinister. Longborough Festival Opera managed to transcended time and space magnificently in this retelling of Verdi’s Rigoletto, the themes proving themselves universal. By the time tenor Robyn Lyn Evans, in the role of the womanising misogynist Duke of Mantua, began to deliver “Questa o quella” with burgeoning swagger and testosterone, I knew this production would be an artistic success.

Evans was in good form throughout the performance, and his “La donna è mobile” was as fresh, confident and nonchalant after the interval as his opening aria. He was supported by a strong pit orchestra conducted by Gad Kadosh, who achieved and maintained a perfect balance of volume allowing all the voices to be heard clearly, yet without sacrificing any of the dynamics. Kadosh, in turn, was assisted in extending the dynamic range by a male chorus who were very tight in their unison, building a wall of sound that was bold, crisp and powerful.

Andrea Tweedale (Gilda) and Robyn Lyn-Evans (The Duke of Mantua) © Matthew Williams-Ellis
Andrea Tweedale (Gilda) and Robyn Lyn-Evans (The Duke of Mantua)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Although the Duke of Mantua has the most well-known and popular tunes in Rigoletto, it is the baritone part of the title character and the soprano of his daughter Gilda that provide the opera with its gravitas. Physically Martin Kronthaler did not fit my preconceived idea of Rigoletto, towering above the rest of the cast in height. His back wasn’t particularly hunched and his limp varied from obvious to unnoticeable at times. Nonetheless, he won me over with his emotive singing and the plaintive quality of his voice. His acting took on greater intensity as the opera developed and his palpable distress at seeing his shamed daughter was matched only by the moment of his peripeteia, as he discovered her death at the hands of the assassin he hired to avenge her rape.

Martin Kronthaler (Rigoletto) © Matthew Williams-Ellis
Martin Kronthaler (Rigoletto)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Andrea Tweedale, who played Gilda, sang with an energy that clarified as she ascended the range. She managed to make me feel her betrayal at the hands of the Duke, but more surprisingly she convinced me of her self-sacrifice in order to save him. It is the part of the plot that I find difficult to accept, yet she made it entirely believable. A deft bit of theatre at the end saw her rise from her sackcloth body-bag and step into the eternal light before retreating to her final resting place once more. The curse was complete.

Of the other cast there were some strong cameo performances too, such as by Howard Quilla Croft as Monterone, but one voice in particular impressed me as standing out for a special mention. I only wish Verdi had have written him a larger part so I could hear more of it. That is the vocal talent of Timothy Dawkins, a deep and mighty bass that reverberated with sable gusto in the role of Sparafucile.   

Indeed the direction of the opera throughout was excellent and budget-defying. Despite the small scale production, the concept of the setting worked very well and there was certainly no lack of quality and little fault to find. It is nit-picking to mention that a scene change from the rich Duke’s ballroom to the humble abode of the impoverished Rigoletto failed to explain why they both had the same gilt doors and staircases. But if nit-picking is all I can do to balance a review then that really is a testament to the production, which is well worth seeing at one of the five remaining performances.