Experience the Shakespearean majesty of Verdi at his most universal
Before he astonished the world as Alberich in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, a rich and detailed rendering of one of the great operatic villains, Warwick Fyfe was better known as a Verdi baritone. In Opera Australia's first Melbourne production for 2014, Fyfe returns to the Grand Old Man of Italian Opera with Rigoletto.
The opera is one of Verdi's best loved, an involved tale of curses, assassins and midnight seduction, with an elevated, darkly dreamy music that stirs the blood and stokes the passions. It is, at least for Warwick Fyfe, a work of singular genius, heart-rending and beautiful, without ever straying into an indulgent sentimentality.
"The relationship between the words and music seems inevitable and therefore unimprovable," he says. "It combines leanness and economy with Shakespearean profundity and intensity."
Warwick Fyfe sees in this sad portrait of a hunchbacked court jester, a flawed man brought low by hubris, a character writ on the same scale as King Lear, an allusion that shines an interesting light on the relationship between Rigoletto and his daughter, Gilda.
Other references that help Fyfe develop his understanding of the role include the works of writers like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Moravia and Curzio Malaparte. And film, too, is a great resource.
"I find the films of the great Italian directors, Fellini in particular, especially helpful when trying to build a bridge for myself to the Latin soul," he says.
In this latest production, the spirit of Alberich – and the high expectations that Fyfe's successes in The Ring cycle have generated – will also loom large.
"The big challenge for me is to try to achieve at least as much artistically with this latest outing as Rigoletto as I seem to have done, based on the critical reception, with Alberich," says Fyfe. "This will be no small task because Alberich, both technically and temperamentally, was extremely comfortable for me. Wagner feels like it's in my blood stream. With Italian opera I have to work much harder to get past the feeling of being an admiring stranger in a foreign land."
Rigoletto is also a technically demanding role, largely sung at the high end of the baritone range, and requiring a daunting emotional and dramatic virtuosity. But this is a challenge Fyfe is looking forward to.
"It'll certainly be much easier than the first time I performed it," he says, "when I was struggling with consequences of having an undiscovered polyp – removed the following year – hanging from one of my cords, and it should be somewhat easier, as a result of technical advances, than it was for the next two seasons of it I performed."
This new production of the opera will be conducted by Italian Verdi specialist Renato Palumbo, and directed by Roger Hodgman, whose bright, bold vision for John Adams' Nixon in China last year confirmed that the veteran director and former MTC artistic director still has one of the best big-stage sensibilities in the country.