Welsh National Opera first unveiled James Macdonald’s Rigoletto in 2002. At the time, set in a Kennedy-era White House, its portrayal of the president as a debauched philanderer and rapist laid bare uncomfortable truths about modern-day power abuse.
In today’s darkening political environment, it’s a pointed reminder of how bad things can get when such abuses go unchecked. While contemporary comparisons are ultimately left to the audience, the cool, Mad Men-esque Oval Office created by designer Robert Innes Hopkins feels disturbingly tasteful – even restrained.
Subject to censorship in its day, Verdi’s opera has always had political overtones. Yet the heart of his tale is private anguish – his eponymous hero a damaged, psychologically complex figure who destroys himself and the daughter he loves. The WNO orchestra brings depth to the colourful score, sensitively conducted – albeit with occasionally ponderous tempi – by Alexander Joel.
But it’s the singers who make this revival, the cast and chorus universally excellent. Mark S Doss does Rigoletto splendid justice, segueing between mocking cruelty, fear, rage and tenderness with vocal aplomb, while David Junghoon Kim’s Duke/President is a blithely ignorant nemesis; clear and seductive of voice, he cares for nothing beyond his own pleasure.
Torn between them, Marina Monzó excels as Gilda. With a searing combination of innocence and burgeoning sexuality her ‘Caro Nome’ is a ravishing highlight of the evening, and sets the scene for an unbearable denouement to come. Wonderfully supported by James Platt’s cavernous Sparafucile and Emma Carrington’s conflicted, drug-addled Maddelena, she may be a deluded self-sacrifice but is never passive nor less than courageous.