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

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

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):