Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

23/08/2019 - 31/08/2019

Production Details

After their critically acclaimed productions of Madam Butterfly, Orfeo, Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, Eternity Opera is returning in August with Verdi’s 1851 dramatic masterpiece Rigoletto.

Rigoletto, a disfigured court jester seeks vengeance for his own humiliation, and for his daughter who has fallen victim to the Duke of Mantua. Rigoletto is out for revenge. But he definitely won’t have the last laugh.

A tragic story of jealousy, vengeance and sacrifice, Rigoletto is one of Verdi’s most popular operas. It features some of opera’s most immediately famous music, including “La donna è mobile”, “Questa o quella” and “Caro nome”.

Outstanding Australian baritone James Clayton will return to New Zealand to play Rigoletto, joining tenor Boyd Owen as the Duke and soprano Hannah Catrin Jones as Gilda, who are both returning to Eternity Opera after their stunning portrayals in last year’s Madam Butterfly.

Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
23-31 August 2019

Rigoletto… James Clayton
Gilda… Hannah Catrin Jones
The Duke… Boyd Owen
Sparafucile… Robert Lindsay
Monterone… Roger Wilson
Maddalena… Jess Segal
Giovanna… Ruth Armishaw
Count Ceprano… Minto Fung
Countess Ceprano… Karyn Andreassend
Matteo Borsa… Chris Berentson
Count Marullo… Orene Tiai
Court Usher… Olivia Sheat
A Page… Alexandra Woodhouse-Appleby
Gang Members… Chris Anderson, Paul Bothwell, Nikita Crosby, Richard Dean, Jessica Mercer-Short and Garth Norman

Director… Alex Galvin
Music Director… Matthew Ross
Producers… Emma Beale & Minto Fung
Costume Designer… Sally Gray
Lighting Designer… Haami Hawkins
Assistant Director… Laura Loach
Production Manager… Joel Rudolph

Theatre , Opera ,

Focussed and fabulous

Review by Michael Gilchrist 24th Aug 2019

News that Eternity Opera may not be able to mount any further productions will be greeted with dismay by all who enjoy opera, not just in Wellington but also in its surrounding regions. Opera opportunities are so few and far between that the value in this company giving practitioners a chance to sustain and develop their skills – and audiences a chance to sustain and deepen their interest in the genre – cannot be overstated. 

This production of one of the most popular works in the canon, Verdi’s Rigoletto, is a particularly vivid example. The essentials are all here: a practised and passionate orchestra of some fifteen pieces, complete with timpani, very ably led by Matthew Ross; a very well structured lighting plot by Haami Hawkins; a lucid and legible costume design by Sally Ross; inventive and idiomatic direction by Alex Galvin.

On this platform, a powerful drama is enacted in that extraordinary space that only opera can inhabit: the grain of the voice. In this place, it is as if our emotions have burst out of our bodies but not out of our shared, physical being. Eternity Opera knows how to focus on this space. There is a real sense of maturity of purpose in this regard. Making the most of the clarity of an English translation and the slightly brutal intimacy of the Hannah Playhouse, the singers are at once fully supported and fully exposed. Altogether, the company bring us many moments of great emotional intensity and thrilling musical transcendence.

As is the way in New Zealand, given the depth of our talent, the chorus are exceptionally good and early on in Rigoletto we get to hear them cut loose. Combined with some marvellous ensemble work from the cast, this gets the show off to a compelling start.

Boyd Owen as the Duke has a fine, flexible tenor, very secure technically, with a particular strength in the confident, idiomatic delivery of the English words. As with other cast members, there is a sense of him speaking directly to the audience as well as singing. Combined with great acting skills and stage presence, this is a much more three-dimensional Duke than we usually encounter. Very well done.

As Gilda, soprano Hannah Catrin Jones brings some unique qualities to this role. There is a sense of her whole being going into her voice. She has some glorious high notes and a completely committed physical presence that makes her ultimate sacrifice utterly convincing. The singer is inseparable from the role in this very affecting performance.

Robert Lindsay plays Spirafucile as a contemporary businessman in a nicely paced performance that unfolds into a satisfyingly chilling conclusion. His beautiful bass voice is also very well controlled. Jess Segal as Maddalena does everything well and, like Roger Wilson as the grieving father Monterone, both roles are very well directed and performed for dramatic effect.

Leading this production, though – and leading it to some lofty heights indeed – is James Clayton in the title role. From the outset this is a performance of mastery in every respect: technically flawless, magnificently various in its colouring, apparently limitless in its power and emotional agility. While being in total command of this role, Clayton also works beautifully in ensemble. This is an operatic baritone at the height of his powers. For this reason alone – and there are others – you mustn’t miss this show. You won’t encounter any better Rigoletto that I am aware of. 

Of course, this production is not without its flaws – and there is nowhere to hide in the courageous aesthetic that Eternity Opera has adopted. A little fatigue is detectable in the earlier parts of the second half, although this doesn’t last – and the superb energy levels of the first half would be difficult to maintain. I‘m also not sure that Alex Galvin solves all the directorial challenges presented by the last scenes, although he does solve some. Again, though, these are challenges that are accentuated by working in a style that maximises art over artifice.  Flawless this production may not be – but it is no less fabulous for that.

I have no doubt that Creative New Zealand has many difficult decisions to make in allocating scarce resources. But in a time of long overdue expansion in our collective life we must fervently hope that, by some means or another, this kind of creative enterprise is one of the hundred flowers that can continue to bloom. 


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