The final performance of Rigoletto for the current season thrilled opera lovers around the nation and the world via cinema relay. Viewed live at the Royal Opera House, the performance had a sterling musicality and a sizzling electricity that made the evening fairly zip by.
From the opening bars of blaring brass, Maestro Alexander Joel created an instant atmosphere of foreboding and tension. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House was its at dramatic best throughout the performance, which was characterised by nimble playing and a splendid balance between instrumental and vocal music.
At the curtain’s rise, a ravaged woman is seen stumbling out of the castle half dressed; the connection between her trauma and the patriarchy is seen when she throws herself on the throne and screams.
David McVicar’s sharply focused 2001 production is sexually frank, explicitly showing the unbridled licentious practices of court. To some extent, this appears demeaning to women, but looking at the ensemble vignettes played out by the Chorus and supernumeraries, there are not just men having their way with women but also men pursuing other men. A muscular near-naked man is set upon by a group of women who all but eat him alive.
The pursuit of pleasure is presided over by the Duke of Mantua, a pampered hedonist who consumes whatever he desires with reckless abandon.
The relatively simple set, by Justin Way, features a large central unit positioned at a precarious tilt. The design is ostensibly traditional in setting, but deliberate incongruities such as transparent plastic trim on the castle wall. The set explicitly demonstrates the contrast between the luxury of court and the squalor endured by both Rigoletto and assassin Sparafucile by having their residences on the flip side.
Tanya McCallin’s costumes are at their sumptuous best in the opening scene, where the characters (who are actually dressed) wear rich Mediterranean tones. The men change to black for their clandestine night activities, at which point the Duke sports rich red robes on par with the scale of an American quarterback. Rigoletto’s position as court jester is shown by a spiky headress with curled horns, and Gilda dresses in virginal white. In act three, for some unknown reason, Gilda’s hair seems to have chopped off by the same crone who buys Fantine’s hair.
Lighting designer Paule Constable uses dark and shadow as much as she uses light. The court scene has lights shining into the audience’s eyes, an arrangement that is annoying in any production.
Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias sings Rigoletto with an unwavering, richly burnished baritone of impressive power and stamina. Platanias reduces the sympathy for Rigoletto by playing him with a relentlessly serious tone, but this angle informs the man’s drive and lack of conscience.
English soprano Lucy Crowe gives a rather divine rendition of “Caro nome,” instantly the affection of the audience on her side. This aria received hearty applause, even though the next scene was clearly ready to proceed. Crowe does not get a lot of response back Platanias, leaving the heavy emotional work to her. When the kidnapped Gilda is revealed as Rigoletto’s daughter, the men of court poke and grope at her, causing a feeling of sickly tension. The subsequent cabaletta “Sì! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta” is an exciting vocal highlight.
American tenor Michael Fabiano seems just a little ufomforatbel in the opening scene, but immediately sounds wonderful when tenderly telling Gilda of his love in “È il sol dell’anima.” Fabiano opens act two in peak form, his ringing delivery of “Ella mi fu rapita” and “Parmi veder le lagrime” earning the loudest applause and cheers of the night. Encouraged by this reception, Fabiano’s voice soars over the male chorus in “Possente amor mi chiama,” as the Duke realises that his beloved is in the castle.
Strong support comes from baritone Dominic Sedgwick as Marullo and tenor Luis Gomes as Matteo Borsa.
Andrea Mastroni masterfully demonstrates exactly the effect Verdi was aiming for by making Sparafucile a bass, his sonorous voice cutting through each interaction with an instant aura of ominous dread.
Rigoletto was reviewed 7.30pm Tuesday 16 January 2018 at Royal Opera House, London. This final performance of the current season of Rigoletto was transmitted live to cinemas.
Photos: #1, #2, #5 Simon Parris, #3, #4, #6, #7 Mark Douet