Opera Scotland

Rigoletto in Scotland

Posted 22 Sep 2018

Rigoletto received its first Scottish performance on 11 December 1867, at Glasgow’s newly-opened Royal Colosseum Theatre. (The image is from the last act of the premiere in 1851). Madame Lancia’s Grand English Opera Company visited Glasgow on a national tour in which the singers included Charles Durand (Rigoletto), William Parkinson (Duke), Florence Lancia herself (Gilda), Carlotta Zerbini (Maddalena) and Mr Tempest (Sparafucile).

Just over a year later the Grand Italian Opera from London visited the same venue (now renamed the Theatre Royal) as well as Edinburgh. Highly reputable Italian-trained singers included (later Sir) Charles Santley in the title role. Sparafucile was ‘Signor Foli’, that being the stage name of the Irish bass Allan Foley. The conductor was a well known adopted Briton, also a famous song composer – Luigi Arditi.

The Carl Rosa Opera did not perform the work until 1882 (in Edinburgh and Aberdeen). The first Eugene Goossens, an immigrant from Belgium, conducted. The cast included the company’s leading performers – Leslie Crotty as Rigoletto, his wife, the Scottish soprano Georgina Burns, as Gilda. J W Turner was the Duke and Josephine Yorke Maddalena. The Sparafucile, George Snazelle, was a well known stage comic, not usually associated with serious parts.

There was a gap before Carl Rosa Opera performed the work again, but between the wars it at last caught on, gaining the kind of popularity it has now. Rigolettos included Lewys James, Kingsley Lark and Booth Hitchen. The Duke was sung by Parry Jones, John Perry and Horace Vincent. Gilda was often a young Glaswegian soprano, Maude Neilson, or an Australian one, Eda Bennie. The leading British mezzo of the day was Doris Woodall, who often included Maddalena amongst her Carmens and Azucenas. She alternated with Olive Gilbert, who spent a successful decade with Carl Rosa before being poached by Ivor Novello to star in his hugely successful shows. A third Maddalena, Gladys Parr, later created several roles in Britten’s early operas.

 The Irish tenor Joseph O’Mara also ran a successful company that toured the work. In 1920 he introduced the New Zealand-born Warwick Braithwaite, who was later a leading conductor of the Scottish Orchestra as well as Sadler’s Wells.

After the war, the Carl Rosa and Sadler’s Wells both toured to the four Scottish cities. The Maltese baritone Joseph Satariano appeared with the Rosa, along with the soprano Gwen Catley and a firm Scottish Opera favourite, tenor Charles Craig. In 1959 Sadler’s Wells Opera was conducted by Alexander Gibson with a cast including two further internationally prominent singers who worked often with Scottish Opera – Peter Glossop (Rigoletto) and David Ward (Monterone). Elizabeth Harwood later made a particularly appealing Gilda.

The Edinburgh Festival has imported three productions. In 1959, the Stockholm opera were conducted by veteran Italian Fausto Cleva, with Nicolai Gedda (Duke) and Kerstin Meyer (Maddalena). The Florentines came in 1969 with the wonderful Renata Scotto as Gilda, conducted by Alberto Erede. In 1987 the Finnish National Opera was led by its principal baritone, Jorma Hynninen, an unusually subtle Rigoletto.

 Scottish Opera’s first production in 1979 introduced American director David Alden to the UK, with Gibson conducting. Neil Shicoff and Dennis O’Neill shared the Duke, with Norma Burrowes as Gilda, Brent Ellis as the jester and Gillian Knight (Maddalena). Revivals introduced Malcolm Donnelly and John Rawnsley in the title role, while Donald Maxwell sang Monterone in 1984.

 The second staging in 1997 was directed by actor Kenny Ireland and conducted by Richard Armstrong. The cast included Claire Rutter as Gilda with Paul Charles Clarke (Duke) and Boris Trajanov in the title role. The 2003 revival had an excellent cast, with Jason Howard (Rigoletto), John Hudson (Duke), Maria Costanza Nocentini (Gilda) and Jane Irwin (Maddalena).

The present production by Matthew Richardson opened in 2011, conducted by Tobias Ringborg. Edgaras Montvidas was the Duke, with Nadine Livingstone (Gilda) and Eddie Wade (Rigoletto).

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