There was not a seat free in Romes opera theatre, because Verdi's Rigoletto is one of those works so loved by the opera-going public for its heartrending storyline and wonderful melodies that none want to miss it. But this also means that expectations are very high. Were these expectations met? Well, not completely but pretty much so.

Bruno Campanella conducted, and, unlike in his recent Sonnambula in this same theatre, in which he was too leisurely, his pace is impeccably fast and energetic, exactly what is required as the action is very fast-moving.

Costumes, sets and production are by Giovanni Agostinucci. The costumes are mediaeval, the women handsome in high stiff collars, and the Duke, very striking in a full white blouse and embroidered top. All the sets are dominated by a broad flight of steps leading up to a patrician portal, which are handy for dramatic entrances and exits; however, the wooden-framed creations which serve for the house in which Rigoletto hides Gilda and the sinister inn belonging to Maddalena and Sparafucile, are not adequate, being rather reminiscent of verandas in a suburban garden. The production is straightforward and simple, and welcome for that.

Rigoletto is Roberto Frontali, on superb form, conveying the twisted emotions, the tortured agony, the tenderness of the poor hunchback protagonist with great subtlety and the intense drama so necessary for the role. The Duke is the Mexican tenor, Ramon Vargas; he can effortlessly reach and hold the highest notes, which is a very important attribute in this opera, but lacks that beauty of tone necessary for perfection. However, he is a physically attractive Duke. As soon as Olga Makarina, Gilda, opens her mouth, there is that comforting reassurance that the coloratura technique is there and that there will be no rude surprises during the evening. Perhaps that voice is not quite virginal enough for this purest of girls, perhaps a little too powerful, but it is clear and bright and with good trills. The secondary figures were all more than adequate, particularly Konstantin Gorny as Sparafucile, Tiziana Carraro as a most seductive Maddalena, Annunziata Vestri as Giovanna, while Luciano Montanaro makes a splendid Monterone, an important figure whose terrible curse lours over the whole opera.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Rome. Tel. 06481601 www.opera.roma.it.10 February 2006. Further performances 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 February 2006

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