Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Plácido Domingo as Rigoletto
08 Sep 2010

Unique Rigoletto live from Mantua

Realism never comes more authentic than this RAI Rigoletto filmed live on location in Mantua, Italy and broadcast simultaneously in 148 countries..

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto

Plácido Domingo: Rigoletto; Julia Novikova: Gilda; Vittori Grigolo: Il Duca di Mantova; Ruggerio Raimondi: Sparafuclie; Nino Surguladze: Maddalena. Zubin Mehta, conductor, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI. Andrea Alderrmann: Producer. Mario Bellochio: Director. Vittorio Storare: Cinematographer. Filmed live in Mantua via RAI, Radiotelevisione Italia, 3-4th September 2010.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Rigoletto

 

Verdi’s stage directions are so faithfully followed that the performance took place over two days. Just as Verdi indicated, each Act unfolds at the correct time of day, in the places indicated in the libretto. Ultimate veracity to script.

No ordinary theatre has the capacity to create a production as loyal to the composer’s instructions as this. This is the real Palazzo Ducale di Mantova. No two dimensional theatre set could hope to replicate the possibilities filming in real space can offer. The Palace is a maze of different buildings connected by alleyways and courtyards. A metaphor for the complex relationships within the Court, where nothing is quite as simple as might seem.

Real Renaissance staircases and hallways, real marble parquets. Frescoes painted by 15th and 16th century masters. Real antique tapestries and furniture. No opera house workshop would even dream of competing with Mantegna or Corregio. Design doesn’t get more perfect than this.

Yet the production resists the temptation to linger on these riches. The focus is resolutely on the opera itself, which is as it should be. Film offers possibilities which expand the impact of any opera. At the ball in Act One, for example, the camera shoots the dancers from above, so we can appreciate the intricate choreography. It’s not just for show, since intrigue at Court is like a dance, with death for those out of step. Rigoletto mocks Count Monterone but soon it will be his own turn to be trounced.


Film enables commentary without interrupting action. Plácido Domingo runs from the courtiers into the room with the famous Mantegna ceiling, painted to look as it if opens onto the sky. It’s trompe l’oeil, deliberate illusion, reversing the natural order. The Dukes of Mantua looked on it as a joke. Rigoletto has no illusions. For him, life is a bad joke. He has to play the fool to survive. Domingo’s face twists in anguish, but for a moment his head is framed against Mantegna’s golden circle, like a halo.

Similarly, the film adds to the portrayal of Gilda. The character’s a mystery. She’s her father’s daughter because she’s inherited his extreme personality. Ten years ago, Christine Schäfer created a Gilda who exploded with passionate heroism. Julia Novikova is much too young and inexperienced to attempt such intensity. Instead Director Marco Bellochio makes her innocence a positive feature. She’s filmed in a room of Lucca della Robbia medallions, depicting the Madonna and Infant Jesus. Gilda’s grown up in isolation. Her only references to life come from religion. Other girls might be wary of blind faith, love, sacrifice and death, but Gilda never questions. The very purity Rigoletto hoped would protect her becomes his defeat.

Plácido Domingo chooses to sing Rigoletto perhaps because the tessitura in the first Act lies close enough to his range that it’s not much of a challenge. Later, when the part darkens, he relies more on the integrity of his acting. Rigoletto is growing old, ravaged by a lifetime of pretending to be what he isn’t. Domingo’s growing old, too, at last able to release his “Inner baritone” not so much through vocal perfection but through the authenticity of his acting.

His performance is artistically valid because he’s creating the character intuitively. Film helps moderate the experience, focusing close-up on his mobile facial muscles, so expressive that even if his vocal chords aren’t what they were, you’re drawn through other means to a true portrayal of Rigoletto’s personality.

Vittorio Grigolo, hot new favourite, comes over very well indeed as the Duke of Mantua. He’s a film natural, good looking and sexy, moving as if he inhabits this set like he was born to it. Interesting warm voice, with potential.

Faithful as this production is to script, following directions too literally leads to problems in Act Three. Verdi wanted a night-time atmosphere but being too literal means the action is fatally obscured. Ruggerio Raimondi’s Sparafucile impresses because he’s indoors where there’s light, an interesting reversal of his first appearance in the dark alley.

The final scene, where Rigoletto finds his daughter again is too shrouded. On conventional stage, it would be completely lost. Here, it’s done via close-ups that can be easily lit. In a sense it’s psychologically true, since Rigoletto is now truly alone, but it doesn’t make for good theatre.

Producer Andrea Alderman and this team created the 1992 Tosca filmed on location in Rome, with Domingo as Cavaradossi and Ruggerio Raimondi as Scarpia. Twenty years on, technology and telecommunications are much more sophisticated. Still, the logistics are such that it’s amazing there weren’t more technical hitches, especially as this was live, with no room for correction.

Zubin Mehta didn’t conduct at the scene where the singing was being filmed. He and the orchestra were in the building nearby, so there was simultaneous transmission, apparently by state of the art techniques, between orchestra, singers and film crew. It’s certainly not unusual these days for performers to communicate via TV monitors, so the slight discord between Mehta’s pace and the singing stemmed more from his tempi than from the medium itself.

This film, in any case, isn’t supposed to replicate studio conditions. Nowadays, operas aren’t filmed in sterile conditions, but as they happen on stage (even if they’re carefully edited). There are compensations, like greater spontaneity, which are closer to real experience in an opera house, where things aren’t necessarily perfect every time. Films like these are an extension of the process.

Imagine the technical, legal and logistic nightmares that were involved making this. Insurance and government clearance must have been hard to negotiate. International simultaneous broadcast to organize. The wonder is that more didn’t go wrong.

We can see stage performances of Rigoletto any time, but we’ll never see another production quite like this. This ambitious venture is unique.

Anne Ozorio

Click here for a video clip.

Click here for a photo array of this production.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):