Sunday, 8 April 2012


7/4/12, ROH, Covent Garden

2 hrs 45 mins. A thoroughly satisfactory evening. Purists may cavil: we just suspended our critical faculties and had a good old wallow.

The promised Russian soprano as Gilda was substituted by an English singer, Lucy Crowe. We got an email some time ago telling us that; even so the Russian sang at the first night of this revival. Maybe her agent had double-booked her. Ms Crowe a more than adequate replacement, though she seemed from the Upper Amphitheatre a slightly stolid stage presence. And her two duets with Dimitri Platanias as her dad were genuinely ravishing. He's pretty stolid as well, no great actor, but fine voice, helped by the fact that David McVicar's production and Tanya McCallin's costume design equip him when at court with a black leather ensemble, two-horned cap, hump and pair of walking sticks that make him look like a scuttling insect.

The Duke was sung by a look-at-me Italian tenor called Vittorio Grigolo (who bounded on at the curtain call to beckon down the adulation of the House: the expected extra cheer failed to materialise). One review suggests he looks a bit too clean-cut for a cynical, serial seducer and I wouldn't disagree.

Among the walk-ons we were pleased to spot three of the Jette Parker Young Artistes we heard at Highgate the other week: ZhengZhong Zhou, Pablo Bemsch and Susana Gaspar.

The costumes were in the intended period: 16th century; the set was abstract but included some decidedly 20th century chain-link fencing. Built on the revolve it presented a smooth sloping face during the court scenes with an opening off centre from which thrust a ramp with steps down and a throne for the Duke in front; then it turned to reveal a cramped two-storey interior with a rather precipitous staircase which served as both Gilda's apartment and Sparafucile's tavern (the revolve at the end of scene one was interminable, in silence, dissipating much of the tension and excitement: does it really take Rigoletto that long to manage the costume change from black leather beetle to brownb mufti?). During the abduction scene it half-turned so it was end-on to the audience.

The first scene a proper orgy, with two or three topless actresses running round in extravagantly tailored gowns, draping themselves round the Duke, the courtiers and each other, and another wrapped in a carpet who finds herself stripped naked and (presumably) raped by an equally naked male courtier -- this I assume is Count Monterone's debauched daughter, who comes back in a nightie during act two, lurking disconsolately and a trifle distractingly in the shadows. With so much happening on stage and the surtitles to read it proved tough to focus. And those who've seen it before report that it's all grown a bit flaccid (hah!) since the original production a decade ago.

John Eliot Gardner conducted briskly. A bit outside his normal repertoire, I'd have thought.

This is only the third time we've seen Rigoletto, and the first two were decades ago when we twice saw the Jonathan Miller mafia production at ENO. Gratifying, therefore, to find it can be done differently.

It also has wonderful music, great tunes, etc etc. But the truth is the operatic apparatus often gets in the way of the emotion in works like this which have a pretence of naturalism. It's fun to go, but it's not half as involving as the stage version, Victor Hugo's Le Roi S'Amuse, on which the opera's based and which we saw (as The King's Play) in a mesmerising production (with real rain) many years ago at the Olivier with Ken Stott: now that really did make the heart bleed.

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