Scottish Opera: Rigoletto – Festival Theatre

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi 

Librettist: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: Matthew Richardson

Conductor: Rumon Gamba

Seduction, tangled with an overbearing father all play a part in the turmoil of Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester. The 1851 libretto opera has been revived by the Scottish Opera following Matthew Richardson’s 2011 production. Now, fully escaping its historical censorship, Rigoletto can serve to entertain, whilst awakening our attitudes to morality, women and objectification.

Women are the scattered playthings of men in Verdi’s Rigoletto. An integral aspect is the way in which they are rag dolled around.  Female mannequins hoisted around as inanimate dance partners for the courtiers. Their use insightful, hollow, perfectly shaped woman who serve no purpose other than to dance, lay with and make no comment. Their torn husks scattered amidst the dregs of the Duke’s licentious pursuits. For what may seem a small aesthetic choice, it speaks volumes. Whilst they make grand martyrdoms – there are no winners in the courts of women. Men, for all their follies, are both victor and victim.

Skulking amidst the street lamps, Jon Morrell’s design coupled with Robert B Dickson’s revived lighting strikes a noir chord. The long coats, shadowed faces as eyes glint in the distance, give Rigoletto a new setting to play with. To describe the setting as minimalist would be too simplistic, conveying a voyeuristic tone. Sharp contrasting angles bring us further into the feel of monochrome cinema, in particular, the likes of The Third Man. Endless doorways ajar, enough to peak. Or better yet, a black drop with a sketched chalk doorframe – subtlety which compliments, rather than robs the light from the other components.

Enough about the aesthetics or themes of the production, time to focus on the majesty before us. Oh, not the vocals, though these are sublime. No, what I’m talking about is the Scottish Opera Orchestra. Channelling Verdi’s composition to the small interludes of jovial light-heartedness – just as much as the vocals, the music tells our tale.

It remains, of course, to comment that yes – vocally, Scottish Opera has a wealth of talent. Our trio of leads – Rigoletto the hunchbacked jester, the Duke of Mantua and the doe-eyed Gilda – daughter of Rigoletto. The mastery of their voices is evident, though Aris Argiris and Lina Johnson find the audience in their hands quicker than Adam Smith’s Duke. Sorrow in the eyes of Rigoletto is as clear as his antics, particularly in the crushing finale as Gilda’s soft tones whimper into the darkness. It takes a touch too long though for our malevolent Duke to make that switch into an operatic villain. Though the moment he struts out La donna è mobile we are hooked.

Our Eton-esque courtiers in their ‘pranks’ to steal away Rigoletto’s mistress conjure up the most poignant imagery this evening. Fearful in its depiction, but strikingly that we still laugh. The lecherous passing of her body, twiddling fingers ready for a feel. For them, this absent woman is simply a gag to be played, her assault and kidnapping all to serve a man’s humiliation – not her own. As Johnson carries the aria in a sublime manner, hooked beaks of the masques protrude in darkness, as her predators begin to assemble outside the window.

Richardson’s interpretation of Rigoletto serves more so than its 2011 conception to highlight the discarded attitudes towards consent, women and human morality. With the highest offices in the land endorsing the attitudes present in a mid-19th-century opera, it’s not shocking its dark tones are still appreciated. Scottish Opera has managed to maintain their stamp, bringing their wall-breaking aesthetics to the capital with magnanimous vocals.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Photo Credit: Richard Campbell

Casanova – Festival Theatre

Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall

Original Scenario: Kenneth Tindall & Ian Kelly

Decadence and debauchery: terms that readily come to mind when thoughts turn to Giacomo Casanova. For many, this image is synonymous with adultery, womanising and sexual deviance. Instead, Kenneth Tindall’s adaptation for the Northern Ballet company’s production of Casanova offers a look at the passion, pain and grandiose lifestyle behind the name.

From the ensuing prologue until the closing grand ballabile, the strength, ferocity and talent of Northern Ballet is monumental. The memoirs of Casanova are often documented as one of the most insightful references into social practices of 18th century Europe. To condense twelve volumes into two hours is commendable, it charts Casanova’s ‘fall from grace’ during his early priesthood, through Venetian court to the birth of Casanova as the entertainer, gambler, adventurer and author.

Unlike more traditional ballets, there is no female lead. Instead, the company comprises ballerinas who play pivotal roles such as the Savorgnan sisters, who have the initial hand(s) in Casanova’s corruption. Rather, Tindall and Kelly have been clever in their use of the ballerinas, Bellino and Henriette, Casanova’s two major lovers, both masquerade as men, one out of necessity, the other fear.

The success of the story of Casanova is down, primarily, to Giuliano Contadini. From the entrée, Contadini makes an impression. His physical strength and delicacy are enviable. Commendable too is Contadini’s acting ability. Following an emotive and personal pas de deux with Hannah Bateman as Henriette, in which her affair is revealed to her husband, we witness Contadini’s visceral explosion of rage. From conventional light pieces with the sisters and Henriette to a more modern influence of heavily stylised symbolism with the monks, the range of movement is expansive, Contadini and the company rising to all challenges.

This precise movement only reaches such elevated visual heights with the help of complementary lighting, score and design. Indeed, to say that Christopher Oram’s work is awe inspiring, borders on simplistic. Combined with Alastair West’s lighting, what is generated is an ever-evolving atmosphere. Skeletal gowns of all shades, drape the dancers.

Oram’s costumes, used in tandem with the lighting, further instil a sense of wonder and depth. Penetrating bursts of red assault, quite suddenly, the darkness from the Head Inquisitor, then suddenly vanish into the blackness. Madame de Pompadour’s lavishness contrasts heavily with the bound chest of Bellino. What is achieved with these dissected costumes is a paradoxical balance between the majesty of 18th Century glamour stripped back to expose the technique and artistry of the ballet beneath.

Casanova is a production devoid of fault. It is a piece of sublime art, accessible to all and one that should be re-lived and shared.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Production information:

Photos Guy Farrow, Emma Kauldhar, Caroline Holden, and Justin Slee.

Lauder – Festival Theatre Studio

Original Script by Jimmy Logan

Adapted by Jamie MacDougall & Kally Lloyd-Jones

Directed by Kally Lloyd-Jones

At one moment in history, Harry Lauder was the highest earning entertainer across the globe. He was the first British artist to amass the sale of over one million records. Following the loss of his son in the First World War, he also went on to raise vast sums for returning soldiers. For this, and much more, a knighthood was bestowed to (now) Sir Lauder in 1919, the first one for a performer of music halls.

The story of one of Scotland’s most successful singer-comedian, or as he would prefer minstrel, is a rich one to compact. With such a notable history, Jamie MacDougall tackles the role in a way that would without a doubt make the man himself proud.

MacDougall and director Kally Lloyd-Jones have adapted the original script by Jimmy Logan. Harry Lauder finds himself rehearsing backstage while a single solitary member of the press sits in the audience, offering questions. From this simple jumping point, we cover most of Lauder’s fascinating, star-studded life through dance, melody and nostalgia goggles.

True to the name of a minstrel, Lauder comprises itself around his music, with interjections of historical facts, gags and snippets of crowd japery. From his first pantomime performance of “I Love A Lassie” to the crowd-pleasing behemoth that is “Romain’ in the Gloamin”, a wealth of numbers are performed. Renowned for his voice, MacDougall’s vocals are without question impressive. Perhaps most remarkable is that the sheer force behind his voice is under tremendous control inside the smaller space of the Festival Theatre Studio. He tempers the intensity; we feel how much power is in MacDougall’s voice, and yet he exhibits a playfulness with the lyrics to fit with the tone.

While MacDougall’s vocals add his own touch to Lauder’s own distinct timbres, his characterisation is spot on; from facial expression to shifting his entire body to push for authenticity. It’s intimate theatre with a strong sense of an almost one on one conversation taking place before us. With the piano, along with his costume pieces on stage, MacDougall and Lloyd-Jones production benefits from the updating of Logan’s script. The video projections – chiefly of war-time documentary footage – are a pleasant touch but could have been utilised on a broader scale. Its use is sporadic, and its lost potential is evident during the costume changes.

Perhaps though, it may simply be desiring more of a good thing. The same is valid for the anecdotes MacDougall shares with us, which are just as sought after as the music. They’re infrequent to begin with, becoming more prevalent as Lauder reaches his semi-retirement. They make for the human insight to the man behind the sporran, MacDougall carrying them well. The news of his son’s passing, revealed in a telegram on New Year’s Eve is the poignant moment. One not used to milk emotion, instead, Lauder’s brief recollection leadings into the dedications and memories of Lauder’s son.

There are two groups of people who will sit with honest smiles, devoid of pretence. The first is children, experiencing something magical for the first time. The second, a crowd who are re-living that magic which would conjure happiness and see them through sorrowful times. Lauder is a wee smasher of a treat: big in performance, large in heart and enormous in character. So, before you depart – have a “Wee Deoch An’ Doris”for Sir Harry Lauder and this excellent portrayal courtesy of MacDougall.

Review originally published for Wee Review: