Rigoletto, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2014Posted on 21 September 2014
Is it not time the Royal Opera House abandoned David McVicar’s 2001 production? The fake licentiousness of the first scene may be huge fun for the supers and for movement and revival director Leah Hausman, but it detracts from the drama and spoils the music, which at times becomes mere background to unmusical whoops and noises from the stage.
As for the designs, having Rigoletto’s house as the reverse side of the Duke’s court is a clever idea, but using the same set for Sparafucile’s tavern suggests a common milieu for courtiers and assassins, in which case why not go the whole hog and present this in terms of a crime family, as Jonathan Miller once did for the ENO. Michael Vale’s grim scrapyard-like set is obviously focused on Act III, where it works well, but as the house of the well paid Rigoletto, a neighbour of Count Ceprano, it is out of place.
Where Covent Garden succeeds of course is by providing superb singers, along with a lively account of Verdi’s wonderful score under the baton of Maurizio Benini, and this Saturday matinee performance on September 20 was musically glorious.
The vocal insouciance of Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu as the Duke matched his fine stage presence, and the emotional expression in his two linked arias at the start of Act II, where he laments the loss of the lovely Gilda, were riveting. As Gilda herself, beautiful Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak sang with huge technical assurance, giving a wonderfully light touch to this role, and if the pathos seemed to be lacking at first it certainly resonated later in Act III. This is where the production really works, and the darkly commanding Sparafucile of Brindley Sherratt really came into its own. His duet with Justina Gringyte’s attractive Maddalena — Ms Kurzak’s boyish Gilda contributing from without — was terrific.
In the end the tragedy stems from Rigoletto’s fatal flaw of insisting on personal vengeance, and Simon Keenlyside’s voice amply showed the lyrical softer side of this absurd jester, who can behave so badly in the gratuitously orgiastic first scene, only to be knocked over in Act II by the excellently assertive Marullo of Duncan Rock. Wonderful acting from Keenlyside, yet without the jester’s cap his youthful looks belie the Act II plea to the courtiers to restore to an old man his daughter (Al vegliardo la figlia ridate).
Wonderful singing all round. Keenlyside and Kurzak were glorious in the father-daughter duets, and a welcome contrast to the ugly court scenes was Austrian bass-baritone Sebastian Holecek, who made a hugely commanding Count Monterone.
Further performances with this cast continue until October 6 — for details click here.