23 September 2021, The Tablet

Stylish dystopia

Stylish dystopia

Royal Opera House, London

The curtain rises on a living Caravaggio. It’s The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew: cherubs looking on as the saint lies, arm upraised, shielding himself from a soldier’s imminent sword-thrust. But in place of the saint there’s an outstretched woman – while the man standing over her conceals his face behind a ram’s skull, horns protruding lewdly.

The handsome opening tableau of Oliver Mears’ new Rigoletto is a microcosm of all to come – a portrait of a world in which divine rights have become twisted into those of earth. Brute strength, masculine power, sex and wealth are the gods here, and while a Madonna might hang above the bed of sweet, sheltered Gilda, it’s Venus who rules – naked and inviting – in the duke’s ballroom.

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