Verdi: Rigoletto

The Royal Opera

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 4 April 2012 4.5 star

RigolettoSince its première in 1851, Verdi’s Rigoletto has remained an audience favorite for its catchy tunes and poignant treatment of a captivating story, one that resonates strongly even today. Often hailed as a revolutionary step "forward" in Verdi’s oeuvre, Rigoletto weaves several important aesthetic threads together: comic elements originating in French opéra comique, a highly defined musical discourse that includes successful experiments with tinta, and elaborations on earlier structural innovations (especially those in Alzira and Macbeth). The opera also has a sense of dramatic pacing found in no other work of the period, boldly prefiguring the unities of time, place, and action so important to the musical discourse of the giovane scuola in the latter half of the century. There are still many traditional elements present in the work, however, most notably the synthesis of mimetic gesture and music that feature prominently in the operas of Bellini and Donizetti. 

Perhaps it is this combination of old and new that make it one of the most performed works in the canon, a situation that sadly often results in unbelievably poor performances (a twist of fate that could only accompany an opera like Rigoletto). The Royal Opera, however, has something very special in their revival of David McVicar’s production—besides orgies and nudity. It is cast extremely well: the three principals are fantastic.

Baritone Dimitri Platanias, making his house début as Rigoletto, received a rare—and well-deserved—standing ovation for his performance. He sings with unparalleled passion and a sense of style that is at the least captivating and at its best hauntingly sublime. The uppermost part of his range occasionally sounded a bit forced, but this is a small quibble. He made the role his own, singing with an outstanding balance of pitch clarity, volume, and unrestrained emotion.

Equally passionate was Vittorio Grigolo, who plays the womanizing Duke extremely well. Grigolo has clear and robust voice; yet it maintains an edge and warmth most tenors can only dream about. He has no problem soaring over the orchestra: he commits to every line without reservation. Indeed, his sense of musical lyricism was especially good in his Act I "love" duet and Act II cabaletta. He is highly energetic and his performance in the final act was very close to show stealing (with any other Rigoletto it might have been).

Ekaterina Siurina made for an expectedly wilting Gilda in the first act, but really shined in the Act II duet with Platanias and in all of Act III. Her voice is well controlled and her sense of style really shown through in her "Caro nome." Her final scene was magnificent, and many were wiping the tears away. 

Christine Rice was very convincing as Maddalena and had a superb presence; her rapport with Matthew Rose, the Sparafucile, was also very convincing. In his own right, however, Rose was powerful and decidedly menacing.

Surprisingly, John Eliot Gardiner was holding it all together in a fantastic way. This was his first time conducting Rigoletto, and his interpretation is a heartfelt and traditional one. His tempi were well chosen (though one can easily hear the influence of Bonynge) and it was a clever decision to keep the Duke’s Act II cabaletta in the performance. He inspired the orchestra to create some beautifully articulated moments. Indeed, Gardiner should experiment with more Verdi; he may have found another niche.

The production, like the opera, exists at a curious historical and cultural nexus, an intersection of old and new. The same is true for many of the interpretations heard: it was a rare experience at the highest quality calibre.

By Michael Migliore

Credits: Johan Persson/ROH