If you think opera’s not for you, think again! Here are our top five reasons why Opera North’s new Rigoletto is a must for your new year watchlist.

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1. Believable characters

It might seem unlikely that an opera written over a century ago could still be relevant today. However, in this production, you’ll definitely relate to the people and to what’s happening in front of you. The characters on stage may well remind you of someone you know – and you can have fun spotting all the contemporary cultural references. Think Netflix and Uber Eats!

As director Femi Elufowoju jr explains:

“My job is to put the story in modern day society so that the themes are clearly understood. Everything about our production will resonate with the contemporary, one hundred per cent.”

Gordon D. Shaw as Bodyguard, Themba Mvula as Marullo and Campbell Russell as Matteo Borsa in rehearsal © Tom Arber

2. Common themes

The themes in Rigoletto are exactly the same as you’d find in any good soap opera on TV: relationships, the abuse of power, misogyny, doting on a loved one, loyalty and revenge.

The difference here is that you get to watch them acted out in front of you, live on stage. That means you can see and hear the reactions of the audience and feel like you too are part of the action. Of course, the other bonus is that everything is accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack and unbelievable voices!

Molly Barker as Countess Ceprano and Roman Arndt as the Duke of Mantua in rehearsal © Tom Arber

3. Contemporary issues

This is an opera about difference and exclusion and the very real impact that can have on a person’s mental health. Unlike in other productions, Rigoletto has no discernible physical disability but feels pushed to the fringes of society as he acts the fool for the privileged elite. “In fact,” says Elufowoju jr, “you could argue that it’s his own incessant paranoia about his situation which ultimately unhinges him.”

As the director, himself of African heritage, adds: “It is how a Black man experiences living in a predominantly white society” – and here we see it amplified to a terrible end.

Eric Greene as Rigoletto in rehearsal © Tom Arber

4. Memorable music

Verdi really knew how to compose a tune and in Rigoletto he surpasses himself with his use of different musical styles to reflect each person’s personality and standing in society.

If you’re a fan of a certain Doritos advert, you’ll definitely recognise ‘La donna è mobile’ (a version of which also went viral on social media during lockdown) and, even if you don’t, prepare to be blown away by the drama and power of the score which adds a whole extra dimension to the action taking place on stage. These were the top ten hits for the Italians in their day and we promise you will be humming a few of them afterwards too.

Jasmine Habersham as Gilda with Music Director Garry Walker in rehearsal © Tom Arber

5. A powerful curse

A curse lies at the heart of Rigoletto and, in the hands of Elufowoju jr, it carries even more weight than usual, thanks to his experience of living in Nigeria:

“From my cultural background, when you are cursed, you are cursed. I want this moment to resonate for the characters whose ethnicity has familiarity with the ‘curse phenomenon’. Rigoletto, Gilda, Monterone, Marullo and the Countess Ceprano will be sung by people of colour. These characters are aware of the power and impact of the curse and their response is infectious.”

As the curse reverberates around the auditorium, everyone will be left in no doubt that things can never be the same again. We can only hold our breath and see how everything plays out.

Sir Willard White as Count Monterone in rehearsal © Tom Arber

If this is your first opera, the good news is that you can take advantage of our Try it ON scheme to get up to two great seats in the auditorium for just £20 each – and students can get theirs for £10 each by signing up for a free Under 30s membership. And, once you’ve booked your tickets, don’t forget to find out more about the opera before you go with our handy Rigoletto in a nutshell guide.

Rigoletto is sung in Italian with an English translation displayed on screens either side of the stage, and lasts approximately 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval). Join us on social media at #ONRigoletto.


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