Magazine article The Spectator

Children at Risk

Magazine article The Spectator

Children at Risk

Article excerpt

Both of them operas about anxious adults and the innocent but easily corrupted children in their care, Rigoletto and The Turn of the Screw could hardly be more different in virtually all other respects. Scottish Opera's production of Verdi's middle-period masterpiece, unveiled in Glasgow's glamorously redecorated Theatre Royal last week, is extremely enjoyable and as straightforward as the music insists it should be, except for the meaninglessly updated staging, a mid 19th-century placing which would presumably be explained by the director Kenny Ireland as justified because it coincides with the period when the opera was composed. I have never seen the force of this tired reasoning, for any stage work, but it hangs in there. In the case of Rigoletto it seems exceptionally perverse, because hunchbacked jesters were no longer in vogue, and what is already a candidate for being Verdi's looniest plot becomes still more absurd.

That apart, the opera is more or less left to produce itself, in the context of a slightly crumbling, evocative setting for the court and a traditionally windswept and sinister countryscape for the last act; in between, the arrangement of Rigoletto's house and that of the Countess Ceprano is managed about as well as it can be. The main thing is that it is all quickly movable, allowing the fast-paced work to proceed with minimum interference.

Richard Armstrong conducts with panache, though his tempi in the last act err on the leisurely side, which means that though the Quartet is exceptionally detailed the desperation of this wonderful piece of melodrama is to some extent sacrificed to lucidity. Otherwise, Armstrong shows himself to be as persuasive as any Verdi conductor now active, and in certain places unrivalled. I have never heard the accompaniment to `Cortigiani vil razza dannata' done with such intensity, the upto-then rather lethargic Rigoletto of Boris Trajanov being galvanised into tortured eloquence. That was the highlight of the evening, as it is also the most inspired music in the whole score.

The cast is uniformly competent, with Dean Robinson's Sparafucile standing out for his silky vocalising and eerily businesslike approach to his job.

The Royal Opera's The Turn of the Screw is an almost unqualified triumph, both musically and dramatically. The cast here is uniformly brilliant, with the Miles and Flora of Edward Burrowes and Pippa Woodrow, aged 12 and 10 respectively, making me wish that there were more operas with substantial parts for such unaffectedly gifted performers. …

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