Some fine singing in this new production, but too little dramatic light shines amidst the gloom.

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

June 26, 2014

“I have my tongue, he has a knife”. So speaks the sardonic jester Rigoletto in Verdi’s 1851 tale of sex, violence and vengeance set in mid 16th-century Mantua. Whether you shift to Rat Pack Las Vegas or Mafioso Sicily, the fact remains that Victor Hugo’s 1832 play  Le Roi S’Amuse (not quite  The King Plays With Himself, but tending in that direction) is one of the darker, steamier, more dramatic stories available to the 19th-century bel canto opera brigade. Darkness there is aplenty in Roger Hodgman’s new production for Opera Australia (at times you have to strain to catch a face through the gloom), but too many of the dramatic fireworks are of the purely vocal variety.

Hodgman and his creative team have chosen to go back to basics and set the action in Renaissance Italy, but awkwardly not quite. The sets, by Richard Roberts, are impressive. They’re clean-lined, they look good and they move beautifully to offer the director a range of enticing visuals. At times, Matt Scott’s moody lighting creates gripping, atmospheric imagery, such as the reveal...