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Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
08 Feb 2007

VERDI: Rigoletto

Sorry my friends, but this rich-looking DVD has a feature that disqualifies it for me.

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto

Ingvar Wixell, Edita Gruberova, Luciano Pavarotti, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Wiener Philharmoniker, Riccardo Chailly (cond.). Directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.

DG 073 416-6 [DVD]

$24.98  Click to buy

It is synchronized and though the singers do very well and open their mouths at the appropriate moment you still pay attention to it and you are unable to forget it during the whole performance as you see the physical challenge of singing is absent. It’s not that I throw away all and everything operatic that is synchronized. I regret it but I’ve still looked spell-bound at Franco Corelli’s Canio of 1954 or Moffo’s Butterfly of a few years later but in those days it was actually quite impossible to broadcast a big opera from small cramped TV studio — though a RAI colleague once told me the real reason for synchronizing was the fact nobody in an Italian TV studio could ever keep his/her mouth shut. By 1982 when this Rigoletto was filmed, camera sensitivity and lighting had proceeded so much that synchronizing was no longer necessary and house broadcasting was the rule. Therefore the real reason of this outmoded operatic TV-movie is the intricate and opulent production by Ponelle. If one didn’t know better one would swear it was by Zeffirelli due to the number of courtiers and the orgy taking place in the first act. Ponelle preferred to take his Piave/Verdi libretto literally. He uses the Gonzaga palace and the city of Mantova as a real life set and designs a very realistic production. It makes for some magnificent sights at first but in the end it is somewhat unsatisfactory as this is the Gonzaga place I and million of tourists know it nowadays; stripped of its pictures by young Pieter Paul Rubens, its tapestries and its murals. The contrast between the fine costumes and the bare walls doesn’t make the sets believable. As always Ponelle had some brilliant ideas like the duke paying off the maid. Photography and camera handling is exemplary and rarely I have watched such a judicious mix of close-ups, medium and panoramic shots. Realism however has a price; one has to do it consequently as otherwise everything results in make-believe and this is what one gets here. During the abduction there is more than light enough for Rigoletto to read a book, even blind-folded. Gualtier Maldé, Gilda’s poor student, looks exactly what he is: the rich duke in one of his less exuberant outfits but still the duke. And Sparafucile succeeds in stabbing Gilda without spilling a drop of blood.

The singers too are not always very believable as actors. Not Pavarotti, who acts very convincingly and whose clothes are a masterpiece of camouflage. But Gruberova doesn’t look very virginal (rather difficult when one has twice the age of an 18-year old girl) or sexy. In a live broadcast in the house every opera fan has no problems when the soprano is a bit too ripe but in a grandiose film one has other expectations and the conventions are different. The vocalizing too has some ripeness problems. Here Gruberova is the best with an exemplary sung Gilda, displaying her formidable technique. Ingvar Wixell however is not suited to the role. The voice lies too high and has no heft in the big outbursts. His is a very lyric baritone, apt for introspection in ‘Pari siamo’ or the first act duet but in ‘Cortigiani, vil razza’ and in the vendetta duet his voice lacks power and rage.

The ‘raison d’être’ of the movie can be deduced from the sleeve portrait: no Rigoletto or Gilda but the duke as the opera is regarded as a vehicle for the star tenor. I think this is for Pavarotti-die-hards only who want to see their hero. He had a career of twenty years behind him when he recorded the sound track and the mellifluousness was slowly going away, leaving us with the rather monochromatic sound of his later days. He is often straining and his top note in ‘Possente amor’ is no longer a thing of beauty and strengt. For the great Pavarotti one has to purchase his famous RAI performance of 1966 (Scotto, Paskalis) or the official Decca recording of 1971. Of course, one would be happy with such a vocal display in any performance one goes to; but Pavarotti here is his own biggest competitor and he loses out to his younger self. Riccardo Chailly and his Vienna Philharmonic assist the singers (recorded prominently) ably though I cannot say he throws a new or very revealing light on the score.

Jan Neckers

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