Rigoletto at the Millennium Centre: WNO embraces the #MeToo movement in iconic new setting of Verdi’s masterpiece | Review

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

by Andrea Gaini

★ ★ ★ ★

The Welsh National Opera is well-known for bold and often politically active productions, and this year’s Autumn Season is especially rich of sensational themes with both Carmen and Rigoletto carrying powerful messages.

James MacDonald’s adaptation of Rigoletto to the Kennedy’s era embraces the core ideologies and beliefs shared by the #MeToo movement in retelling the story of the Duke’s jester, Rigoletto and his daughter, confronting the dangers of unchecked power abuse.

The story follows the adversities of a Duke (David Junghoon Kim) whose morality is blinded by his power to have any women he desires, his fool and entertainer Rigoletto (Mark S Doss), solely concerned with hiding his daughter Gilda (Marina Monzó) from the dangerous world he lives in, and her love for the Duke that overtakes any rationality in her and leads to a fatal ending.

The new setting of the story is boldly reflected in the scenography which features elegant and presidential dinner parties, a wooden partners desk in the Oval Office and a reproduction of the U.S. Capitol Building which sets the location of the opera from the very beginning.

Despite being more enthusiastic about the concept of this version of Rigoletto than the actual realisation of it, the opera is very easy to follow and due to very good staging and acting, it’s quite simple to get a full grasp of what happens, without getting lost.

David Junghoon Kim is a cocky and pretentious Duke and his redemption of “La donna immobile” is divine both in singing and in interpretation. However, I must say, his duets with Gilda are not as smooth as I would have expected, they sometimes feel slightly awkward and we lose a bit of the Duke-like characterisation to give space to a melancholic and washed-down version.

Mark S Doss’ return to the WNO as Rigoletto is a very memorable one. The character perfectly suits his deep, colourful and naturally scratched voice and his acting reveals a dark sarcasm which incorporates the suffering and anxious life he conducts behind his entertainer façade. The symbiosis he found with Marina Monzó (Gilda) reveals a father-daughter relationship which is tender, sweet and also desperate when trying to hide his most precious diamond from the cruelty of a world where lesser people can do nothing but watch their world crumble when crossed by powerful men.

This frantic, and after all failed attempt to fight the powerful man is what charges this opera with a meaningfulness that works very well with the McDonald’s modern re-adaptation.