Opera / Verdi's jester still waits to have the last laugh

Rigoletto Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
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Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Some producers confuse the action and fill it with irrelevancies. It must be said that Kenny Ireland, whose for Scottish Opera is his first attempt at opera production, has done none of these things.

The effect of general shambles is caused not by him, but by the designer Richard Aylwin. There is a frightful set on two levels which looks as if it is only half-built, and is unsuitable either as the palace of Act 1 or as 's house; in the last act it gives way to a nativity scene from the local primary school. The costumes, on the other hand, work well, mostly gentlemen's suits from Verdi's own time, giving himself an unaccustomed dignity.

People get lost in the doorways, Monterone pops up on the second floor and the arcades look frail enough to fall down. It would have been better to trash the whole thing and do the opera on an empty stage. In the midst of this farrago, Ireland did his best.

Sometimes, this was pretty good. The conductor, Richard Armstrong, let enough light into his brisk speeds to allow both the singers, and the music itself, to breathe. And these singers were uniformly fine; best of all were the young lovers - if that's the right term - who were quite unusually credible in their feelings. It is easy to forget that the Duke really believes in his love for Gilda (and, probably, each of his other loves too) and momentarily considers himself a reformed character. Paul Charles Clarke conveyed this well. He was fresh, boyish, earnest, sincere, a young man delighting in his new-found power over women.

Claire Rutter was an intelligent and knowing Gilda, not so much the naive girl bowled over by a scoundrel as the ardent woman, too warm-hearted not to risk a great experience. There were no gratuitous pyrotechnics in this performance, but even so "Caro nome" was a very refined and pellucid affair, sung, unfortunately, from backstage, presumably because of the producer's inexperience.

Indeed, Rutter was so refined that she showed up the others. When (the young Macedonian Boris Trajanov) sang his verse of "Veglia, o donna", his poor sense of rhythm had the notes bumping and bouncing all over the place. Rutter followed this with a second verse that was perfectly poised and clear.

Trajanov was, nevertheless, an endearing jester. A big, lanky figure, he flung his limbs about wildly and sang in a luxurious dark baritone. In spite of his rhythmic problems he projected a lot of pathos: "Piangi, fanciulla" was a heartbreaking moment.

The two murderous siblings were splendid, Dean Robinson as a terrifying boa-constrictor of a Sparafucile and Claire Bradshaw, as Maddalena, exuding physical appeal and fielding a fluent mezzo of considerable breadth. In fact, the last act had enormous impact despite the contribution from the primary school. Somewhere in this imperfect , a great performance is struggling to get out.

In rep to 1 Nov. 0141-332 9000

Raymond Monelle