Opera Holland Park has a special talent for spotting rising singers, and its fans love watching these new names become the next big stars. Soprano Alison Langer is a classic example. She came up through OHP's Young Artists' scheme, made a big impression in a small role in the outstanding Un Ballo in Maschera in 2019, broke hearts as jilted Micaela in Carmen in 2022, and now she is singing Gilda, one of the best-known and most demanding roles in Italian opera.
Gilda is the over-protected daughter of Rigoletto, who is employed to amuse the Duke of Mantua and his unsavoury hangers-on. When those bullies abduct Gilda, who has been seduced by the Duke, Rigoletto exacts revenge that goes tragically wrong.
Stephen Gadd as Rigoletto and Alison Langer as Gilda. Photo: Craig Fuller
In Cecilia Stinton's new production for OHP, the court has been moved to the Jazz Age, and the licentiousness is born out of the inter-war period of anything goes. Bullingdon Club-style moneyed oafs pick on victims, tormenting one of their own during the overture. Stinton and conductor Lee Reynolds pull off a clever stunt in these opening pages of the familiar score: much of the early music comes hissing from a gramophone on stage, and the courtly dance is the Charleston.
Langer sings her tender role with grace and delicacy but also the inner strength that will propel her character to a final act of self-sacrifice. Look and listen out for her in other opera houses: she is sure to be back at OHP too.
The two men in her life were having a less successful time on first night. Baritone Stephen Gadd as a fragile Rigoletto was clearly struggling, dropping an octave from time to time. With his great track record at OHP there are sure to be happier nights ahead. Tenor Alessandro Scotto di Luzio looks every inch the duke, but had real intonation problems.
Hannah Pedley as Maddalena and Alessandro Scotto di Luzio as the Duke of Mantua. Photo: Craig Fuller
But here, in the great OHP tradition, comes another interesting new talent: baritone Jacob Phillips in the small role of Marullo. He is still completing his studies, and sang in Carmen last year. Fingers crossed we will hear more of this fine voice from a strong stage presence.
OHP alumni it was good to see back include bass Matthew Stiff as vengeful Monterone, baritone Benson Wilson somewhat under-used as cuckolded Ceprano and bass Simon Wilding as assassin Sparafucile.
Stinton's spry production contains well thought-out and witty vignettes, but also oddities: would Sparafucile, with his curious crook's code of conduct, really kill a young woman if she is not, as Verdi intended, disguised as a man? Would Gilda really go out on the razz, swigging from a bottle?
Simon Wilding as Sparafucile and Alison Langer as Gilda. Photo: Craig Fuller
As ever, the City of London Sinfonia gives Verdi's great score, even in a skilfully reduced form, everything it's got – including some beautiful oboe and cor anglais playing from Dan Bates.
Placing the orchestra in the centre of a wraparound stage, has become a fixture. This does push most of the singers far upstage a lot of the time. This does mean that imaginative visual detail in Neil Irish's design is sadly lost, particularly on those seated furthest back in the auditorium (where excellent raked seating has returned). Verdi's male chorus in Rigoletto is a cruel and mighty thing, and I would love to have had them closer. Oh, but on second thoughts...
Rigoletto is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Further performances are on 1, 3, 7, 9, 15, 17, 22, 24 Jun
|What||Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park review|
|Where||Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
30 May 23 – 24 Jun 23, Eight performances remaining
|Website||Click here for details and booking|