Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was plagued by politics at its inception. Based on Victor Hugo’s (banned) play Le roi s’amuse, about a licentious king, the opera required considerable negotiation with the imperial Austrian censors before it could be performed in Austrian-controlled Venice. The King was demoted to a Duke, and the action moved to medieval Mantua (whose ducal family, the Gonzagas, had conveniently died out by the 19th century).
The politics this time was external: Hong Kong’s domestic political strife made last night’s opening of Opera Hong Kong’s production of opera no sure thing. The Cultural Centre was closed over the preceding weekend; the first time the company was able to perform in costume together was the evening before—costumes which had to be altered at home because the facilities were not available.
The company—and the show—nevertheless, soldiered on without any evident ill effects, and in doing so, displayed both mettle and maturity.
This Rigoletto was further evidence of Opera Hong Kong’s knack for pairing well-established singers with younger singers on the cusp of what have often proven to be exciting careers. The performance brought together the veteran baritone Roberto Frontali in one of his signature roles as the jester with recent Operalia-winner Pavel Petrov in his role debut as the Duke. Audrey Luna—famed for debuting opera’s highest written note at the 2017 Metropolitan Opera production of Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel—ably replaced Desirée Rancatore who had been originally scheduled for the role of Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter.
Frontali alternated with Anton Keremidtchiev, Petrov with Raimonds Bramanis, and Luna with Nicole Hasslet (who returns next in Opera Hong Kong’s May production of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet).
The production made considerable use of projections for atmosphere, but was otherwise traditional in setting and direction. The Duke was particularly randy, even feeling up Gilda’s usually stolid if complicit and occasionally venal nurse Giovanna (sung here by not-at-all-stolid Dominique Chan). Local mezzo Carol Lin (who alternated with Bobbie Zhang) made a sultry Maddalena and Samatha Chong an elegant Countess Ceprano. Paul Gay was the assassin Sparafucile.
Paolo Olmi conducted the Hong Kong Philharmonic.