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Rigaletto: My first Opera with Opera North

As an avid musical theatre fan, I thought it was about time I tried my first Opera. What better way then a Opera North show.

Opera North is on stage for the first time since Covid so It was a double Celebration for the Press Night of Rigaletto At Newcastle Theatre Royal Theatre. In fact, because of covid, the main Characters of Rigaletto and Gilda were played by understudies. Not that you would have noticed, Even Richard Mantle who joined us to open the show, foretold us of their AMAZING talent. He said that we would look back and remember the first time we saw them when their careers soar.

RIGOLETTO – Giuseppe Verdi; Opera North, new production; Grand Theatre; Leeds; 20 January 2022.; Duke of MantuaROMAN ARNDT Rigoletto- ERIC GREENE Gilda – JASMINE HABERSHAM Sparafucile – CALLUM THORPE Maddalena – ALYONA ABRAMOVA Giovanna- HAZEL CROFT Count Monterone – SIR WILLARD WHITE Marullo – THEMBA MVULA Matteo Borsa – CAMPBELL RUSSELL Count Ceprano – ROSS McINROY Countess Ceprano – MOLLY BARKER Court Usher /Bodyguard – GORDON SHAW Page – HELEN ÉVORA Conductor – GARRY WALKER Director – FEMI ELUFOWOJU JR. Set & Costume Designer – RAE SMITH Lighting Designer – HOWARD HUDSON Choreographer – LAILA DIALLO Fight Director – ALISON DE BURGH Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

What made this show extra special was that it is the first production of Rigaletto in 15 years and is “directed by British-Nigerian theatre artist Femi Elufowoju jr, and depicts the society he was born into, and continues to live in, as a Black man”.

The lobby was buzzing with excitement before the show and you could tell the audience were looking forward to a spectacular night of Opera. There were some real Opera fans dressed for the occasion.

Rigaletto is an Opera North version by Giuseppe Verdi and one mostly recommended for first time opera visitors like me.

RIGOLETTO – Giuseppe Verdi; Opera North, new production; Grand Theatre; Leeds; 20 January 2022.; Duke of MantuaROMAN ARNDT Rigoletto- ERIC GREENE Gilda – JASMINE HABERSHAM Sparafucile – CALLUM THORPE Maddalena – ALYONA ABRAMOVA Giovanna- HAZEL CROFT Count Monterone – SIR WILLARD WHITE Marullo – THEMBA MVULA Matteo Borsa – CAMPBELL RUSSELL Count Ceprano – ROSS McINROY Countess Ceprano – MOLLY BARKER Court Usher /Bodyguard – GORDON SHAW Page – HELEN ÉVORA Conductor – GARRY WALKER Director – FEMI ELUFOWOJU JR. Set & Costume Designer – RAE SMITH Lighting Designer – HOWARD HUDSON Choreographer – LAILA DIALLO Fight Director – ALISON DE BURGH Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest. I for sure wasn’t expecting much in terms of the staging of the show- how wrong I was!

The staging was bright, colourful and modern.

The artwork displayed and the bright colours all a nod in the undertones of the production to black history and art. The show is sung in Italian but with English subtitles on large screen either side of the stage.

The first scene opens up at a bright, bustling party *coughs Orgy. At first I thought surely this isn’t Opera, but I soon realised the story of Rigaletto was about the deceit and corruption of the city and the people in it including the loathed Rigaletto. The main Character of Rigaletto himself was played by Kamohelo Tsotesti from South Africa. The character is plagued by doubt, paranoia and poor mental health so much so that he constantly finds himself defensive and the target of drama! In the opening scene he continue his poor behaviour and much to his bad luck is cursed!

RIGOLETTO – Giuseppe Verdi; Opera North, new production; Grand Theatre; Leeds; 20 January 2022.; Duke of MantuaROMAN ARNDT Rigoletto- ERIC GREENE Gilda – JASMINE HABERSHAM Sparafucile – CALLUM THORPE Maddalena – ALYONA ABRAMOVA Giovanna- HAZEL CROFT Count Monterone – SIR WILLARD WHITE Marullo – THEMBA MVULA Matteo Borsa – CAMPBELL RUSSELL Count Ceprano – ROSS McINROY Countess Ceprano – MOLLY BARKER Court Usher /Bodyguard – GORDON SHAW Page – HELEN ÉVORA Conductor – GARRY WALKER Director – FEMI ELUFOWOJU JR. Set & Costume Designer – RAE SMITH Lighting Designer – HOWARD HUDSON Choreographer – LAILA DIALLO Fight Director – ALISON DE BURGH Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

We soon after find out he has a beautiful daughter Gilda (played by Yolisa Ngwexana from South Africa) whom he has kept locked and hidden away from the corruption of the town and it’s people. After his curse he is traced back to his daughters house by The Duke, a womaniser whom has fallen for his daughter unknowingly and to his surprise finds out the truth. When he goes back to declare his love, she has been taken by the town folk in an act of humiliation for Rigaletto.

Is this his fate for his poor behaviour? Is it the curse?

RIGOLETTO – Giuseppe Verdi; Opera North, new production; Grand Theatre; Leeds; 20 January 2022.; Duke of MantuaROMAN ARNDT Rigoletto- ERIC GREENE Gilda – JASMINE HABERSHAM Sparafucile – CALLUM THORPE Maddalena – ALYONA ABRAMOVA Giovanna- HAZEL CROFT Count Monterone – SIR WILLARD WHITE Marullo – THEMBA MVULA Matteo Borsa – CAMPBELL RUSSELL Count Ceprano – ROSS McINROY Countess Ceprano – MOLLY BARKER Court Usher /Bodyguard – GORDON SHAW Page – HELEN ÉVORA Conductor – GARRY WALKER Director – FEMI ELUFOWOJU JR. Set & Costume Designer – RAE SMITH Lighting Designer – HOWARD HUDSON Choreographer – LAILA DIALLO Fight Director – ALISON DE BURGH Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

The Duke played by Roman Arndt, gets to sing the most famous song that even an opera virgin would know “La Donna E Mobile” which translated to “women are fickle”. Needless to say his true colours are shown leading to the heartbreak of Gilda. Any father is distraught by witnesses his daughters pan which leads an introduction into the assassin Sparafucile (played by Callum Thorpe) who by the way has the deepest voice I have ever heard. He stood out for me as his voice was so different.

And with that the curse comes to an end, but how?

RIGOLETTO – Giuseppe Verdi; Opera North, new production; Grand Theatre; Leeds; 20 January 2022.; Duke of MantuaROMAN ARNDT Rigoletto- ERIC GREENE Gilda – JASMINE HABERSHAM Sparafucile – CALLUM THORPE Maddalena – ALYONA ABRAMOVA Giovanna- HAZEL CROFT Count Monterone – SIR WILLARD WHITE Marullo – THEMBA MVULA Matteo Borsa – CAMPBELL RUSSELL Count Ceprano – ROSS McINROY Countess Ceprano – MOLLY BARKER Court Usher /Bodyguard – GORDON SHAW Page – HELEN ÉVORA Conductor – GARRY WALKER Director – FEMI ELUFOWOJU JR. Set & Costume Designer – RAE SMITH Lighting Designer – HOWARD HUDSON Choreographer – LAILA DIALLO Fight Director – ALISON DE BURGH Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

You will have to find out for yourself. Rigaletto is on Tour and you can find tickets online. Why not look at the other shows that are available from Opera North too?

*gifted tickets

For more theatre reviews check out the rest of my blog posts. *please note imagery features original cast

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