Giuseppe Verdi Rigoletto
Boiko Zvetanov (Duke of Mantua), Jacek Strauch (Rigoletto), Martina Unden (Gilda), Stephen Owen (Sparafucile), Mihoko Fujimura (Maddalena), Fran Lubahn (Giovanna), Ludovic Kónya (Monterone), Gerhard Hochschwendner (Marullo), Walter Pauritsch (Borsa), Vladimir Jurlin (Count Ceprano), Gerlind Gebhardt (Countess Ceprano), Temi Kambourova (A Page), István Szecsi (An Usher)
Male Chorus of the Graz Opera, Dan Ratiu (Chorus Director)
Graz Philharmonic Orchestra, Marco de Prosperis (Conductor)
Gisbert Jäkel (Director, Set Designer), Nicole Géraud (Costume Designer), Reinhard Traub (Lighting Designer), Geta Bahrmann (Choreography)
The evening began with an announcement by the management of the Graz Opera that the performance would start with a brief delay due to "an unexpectedly long queue at the box office". However, they were hoping to compensate us for the wait with an "interesting performance". And interesting it certainly was...
Director Gisbert Jäkel, who also designed the sets, opted for a psychoanalytic approach and conjured up a chilling world full of dysfunctional characters: an emotionally damaged father, a naive, dominated daughter and a reckless narcissist with his gang of decadent, bored courtiers who have even lower moral standards than Sparafucile, the assassin. Some of Jäkel’s ideas were quite effective, for example, having the Duke sing his "Questa o quella" to an "audience" of sleeping (passed-out?) party guests in order to illustrate the boredom at the Duke’s court, while others were plain silly, e.g. Gilda being carried away by a few bare-chested, masked men tripping across the stage to the rhythm of the music or the courtiers linking arms and swaying from side to side while telling the Duke how they had kidnapped Gilda.
Visually, the sets got more and more abstract in the course of the opera. While the Duke’s palace in Act 1 was still rather realistic, resembling a mixture between a British men’s club, with huge, comfortable armchairs, and a luxury brothel, Rigoletto’s house (or is it rather Gilda’s prison?) was just a sort of plain white courtyard surrounded by bare U-shaped walls. Sparafucile’s inn in the final act was symbolised by a wooden table and chair next to a raked semicircular platform with a few frozen sheaves of grain on it. The costumes were in the style of the mid-19th century.
Vocally and dramatically, the evening was dominated by Jacek Strauch who gave a very powerful, compelling interpretation of the tragic hunchbacked jester. His rich, warm baritone is ideally suited to this role and his phrasing and diction were excellent throughout. Martina Unden was a full-voiced, dramatically believable Gilda who impressively rose to the challenges of the coloratura elements of her role. Boiko Zvetanov sang the Duke with a bright, robust voice and plenty of brilliance and ring in the upper range but was rather provincial and inelegant in his acting. Stephen Owen contributed a dignified "dark" Sparafucile, and Mihoko Fujimura was a luxury casting for his accomplice sister with her lush, voluminous mezzo. The smaller roles were competently filled.