Giuseppe Verdi once described Rigoletto as his best opera, and it is certainly, from a musical standpoint, one of his most inventive, pushing the envelope both in terms of style of sound and difficulty of performance. In approaching it, the cast and creatives of the WNO are therefore faced with multiple challenges, from the technical standpoint before anything else, with some unusual duets to tackle, the looming challenge of the quartet in the final act, and an aria, La Donna è Mobile, which is certainly one of the most popular and immediately recognisable in the history of opera. It is fortunate, then, that this second production of the Autumn WNO season for 2019 is particularly strong in its cast, starring a set of performers absolutely capable of tackling the many difficulties posed by the score and libretto.
Coming back to the WNO after a stand-out performance in Tosca in 2018, Mark S. Doss makes his Rigoletto charismatic, torn, and understated, bringing a much-needed physicality to the role and keeping his vocal performance contained, in a wise choice to resist the temptation to invest the character with a titanic quality that would overly reduce his inherent complexities. His Rigoletto is often hesitant, always tormented, the smoothness of the vocal delivery veined with a constant tension, a less conventional take on the role that works well in illuminating the many facets of the iconic character. The real surprise of this production, however, is David Junghoon Kim (pictured with Marina Monzo) in the role of the Duke of Mantua. Perfectly in voice throughout, he infuses the character with a charm that is absolutely necessary for the smooth working of the plot, making his interactions with Gilda believable where in the text they are undoubtedly too rushed to be as strong a plot point as they need to. Marina Monzó gives some intensity to her Gilda, with a vocal performance which is strongly reliant on powerful delivery, perhaps with an excess of preciosity in the more technically challenging sections. James Platt is a delightfully sardonic Sparafucile, with an impressive ease of delivery in the lower range and the ability to make the audience break the tension with laughter in one of the most intense moments of the plot; Emma Carrington as Maddalena completes the texture of the quartet in the final act, with a set of performances expertly interlaced with each other that is one of the highest points in the production.