Rigoletto, Fri 22nd Nov 2019
The regular visits of Welsh National Opera to the New Theatre are one of the musical highlights of the year for many local residents. As a rule, we are a treated to great singing and interesting productions. Sadly, this was the weakest work I have seen from the company and it did not reflect well on them.
Much of the blame has to be laid at the feet of the original production. The updating of Rigoletto to the Washington DC of the Kennedy Era needs subtle and detailed direction to make the new setting work. It simply didn't. It was a broad brushstrokes production with no credible characterisation - fatal to this particular opera.
Similarly, the set design was underwhelming. From the wobbly standard lamp or the door that didn't fit the frame, to the set dressing that looked half finished, none of it was up to the standard that we have come to expect from WNO.
What disappointed me the most was the quality of the acting from the singers. It felt like we had slipped back fifty years in terms of the way too many of the singers inhabited the stage. It is not enough to just stand and deliver your well-known aria and then to wait for the applause. It is not enough to use generic gestures and facial expressions - we have come to expect genuine emotional engagement with the characters being portrayed.
Vocally, there were, thankfully, some highlights. My favourite voice of the night came from Wojtek Gierlach, who had the right rich bass and sense of menace for the role of Sparafucile, Haegee Lee was an accurate and flexible Gilda - coping with the writing well - but, perhaps, lacking real variety of tone to deliver a full finished performance. A voice to watch out for in the future nonetheless.
Sadly, Mark S Doss did not use his instrument well as Rigoletto. It is a challenging sing, without a doubt. But he lacked precision, and his intonation was not always accurate. I could tell he was going for maximum character - but it felt forced and his overall performance did not truly reflect what Verdi had written.
The orchestra was the real star of the night. Some lovely detail emerged from the score that I had not heard before, and it was a top-notch performance of some of Verdi's greatest writing for the stage.
I am hoping this is a just a temporary blip from WNO - and not a sign of things to come. We shall see what their return next autumn brings us.