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Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of Royal Opera]
16 Oct 2010

Rigoletto at Covent Garden

Dame Joan Sutherland, ‘La Stupenda’, sang her first Gilda at Covent Garden in 1957 under the baton of Sir Edward Downes, and sang the role many times and to great acclaim on the ROH stage.

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto

Rigoletto: Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Duke of Mantua: Wookyung Kim; Gilda: Patrizia Ciofi; Maddalena: Daniela Innamorati; Sparafucile: Raymond Aceto; Monterone: Michael Druiett: Marullo: ZhengZhong Zhou; Count Ceprano: Lukas Jakobski; Giovanna: Elizabeth Sikora; Matteo Borsa: Iain Paton. Director: David McVicar. Conductor: Dan Ettinger. Set design: Michael Vale.Costume design: Tanya McCallin. Lighting design: Paule Constable. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Monday 11th October 2010.

Above: Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of Royal Opera


The pre-performance announcement by ROH’s director, Elaine Padmore, of the sad death of this great soprano added an extra layer of emotional urgency to this revival of David McVicar’s now almost canonical production of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

David McVicar’s eighteenth-century Mantua is a hothouse of Bacchanalian orgies and Machiavellian deceit. Michael Vale’s Olivier-award nominated sets — transparent, spinning edifices, all crumbling stone, shadowy recesses and askew perspectives — powerfully suggest the literal and figurative decay of a city on the verge of moral collapse, and are complemented by the flaming reds and oranges of Tanya McCallin’s raunchy costumes for the opening Scene 1 which evoke Dante’s infernal realms. Nudity and violence, often combined, abound. Out of these fiery depths leaps a black leather-clad Rigoletto - a horned devil, spitting fury and curses. Fearlessly physical, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, usually seen in rather more suave and sophisticated guises, emits a startling viciousness and ferocity, foreshadowing the inhumanity to which the eponymous jester’s desire for all-consuming vengeance will subsequently propel him. Boundless stamina combined with limitless variety — now sweetly tender when recalling his wife, then cruelly bitter as his obsessive rage engulfs him — characterise a remarkable performance. Hvorostovsky is not afraid to push his baritone to its rougher edges, while his ability to spin an endless lyrical line never ceases to amaze and thrill.

RIG-2010JP_02126-CIOFI-AS-G.gifPatrizia Ciofi as Gilda

The shadow of the late lamented diva placed a heavy mantle on the shoulders of Patrizia Ciofi as this production’s Gilda. She took a little time to settle, occasionally sliding up or slipping down to notes at first, and at times employing an overly wide vibrato which supported her projection but muddied the intonation. But Ciofi is an experienced Gilda, well-versed in the idiom, confident in delivery, and she soon found her focus; her pristine tone captured the near-hysterical ecstasy of the young girl experiencing the pain of passion for the first time, and she dispatched ‘Caro nome’ with aplomb, revealing a true coloratura with seamless passagio. Paul Constable’s imaginative lighting added some exquisite touches to poignant moments. Thus at the end of Gilda’s first aria, the stage revolved casting subtle shadows and revealing subdued corners, as Gilda slowly mounts the crooked stairs to the attic hovel, her voice heartbreakingly waning with the fading light. Clothed in virginal white against his darker hues, Ciofi’s duets with Hvorostovsky were impassioned and penetrating, the latter’s mastery of the uninterrupted, arching melodic curves of Verdi’s score suggesting the heartfelt intensity of a paternal love which both protects and suffocates.

RIG-2010JP_01567-WOOKYUNG-K.gifWookyung Kim as Duke of Mantua

Korean tenor Wookyung Kim made his debut at the ROH in 2007 as the Duke of Mantua, and returned to reprise the role. Despite his musical prowess — unfailingly legato lines and even tone production — theatrically, he does not make for a natural Casanova. His interpretation is a little one-sided, fresh naivety not really matched by the requisite careless, even wicked, wilfulness.

Indeed, many of the cast were veterans of this production, and all held their own well in the company of the leading lights. The big, bold bass of Raymond Aceto emphasised Sparafucile’s sinister and twisted motivations. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Innamorati was a convincingly seductive Maddalena in the renowned quartet, her warm tone complementing the blending voices. Amid the ubiquitous debauchery and vice, it was hard for Michael Druiett as Monterone — who only appears twice in the opera — to make much of a mark as the voice of moral authority, but he was secure. Both of the Jette Parker Young Artists in this production also performed with accomplishment: Polish baritone, Lukas Jakobski, was a solid Ceprano, while the bright baritone of Zhenzhong Zhou as Marullo made a strong impression in a small role.

The young Israeli conductor, Dan Ettinger, making an impressive Covent Garden debut, really kept his foot on the pedal from the first downbeat, racing through the opening scene, injecting a terrifying air of menace, and sustaining the dramatic drive and frisson of risk and recklessness throughout. The opera rushed relentlessly on to its disturbing climax: Hvorostovsky’s terrible exultation over the dead body of his daughter. His perverted elation, in his belief that the dead Duke lies slain in the sack before him, is a disquieting moment of hubris.

McVicar presents a dystopian vision of crooked criminality and raw cruelty. If his vision underplays the balanced contrast between the light and the dark which, I believe, accounts for much of the emotional piquancy of Verdi’s opera, in favour of an unremittingly malevolence, it does so with an admirably precise and sustained focus. A first rate evening.

Claire Seymour

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