Rigoletto belatedly enters the Glyndebourne repertory via Christiane Lutz’s staging, a radical rewrite of Verdi’s revenge tragedy based on a play by Victor Hugo.
If a director can do pretty much anything they like to the original scenario provided that they improve it, then in this case she and her team have failed utterly.
The plot has been moved from 16th-century Mantua to 1930s Hollywood, where embittered court jester Rigoletto has turned into Charlie Chaplin while his vicious employer the Duke becomes a film director.
Only obliquely referred to in the opera’s text, Monterone’s daughter – an earlier victim of the playboy-seducer – commits suicide onstage in the opening scene, leaving behind a baby daughter whom Rigoletto adopts; there then follows a gap of 17 years envisaged neither by Verdi nor by Hugo.
We’re now in 1947. As a young adult, Gilda – in this version not Rigoletto’s daughter, but the Duke’s – is seduced by her own father; though neither of them ever understands their true relationship.
The result feels infinitely more complicated than the Victor Hugo/Verdi plot but – despite the newly invented incest – proves far less compelling.
Unusually for Glyndebourne, the show’s musical standards disappoint. Nikoloz Lagvilava is a lacklustre protagonist. Even with a good top register Vuvu Mpofu achieves limited success as Gilda. Of the three principals only Matteo Lippi’s buoyant Duke maintains the standard required. Thomas Blunt, meanwhile, conducts a performance short on flexibility as well as drama.
The usual pattern is for productions premiered on the autumn tour to move into the festival proper after a year or so. It needs to be asked whether this one is really good enough.