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Reviews

<em>Rigoletto</em>, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
17 Dec 2017

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Rigoletto, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: ROH Chorus and cast

Photo credit: Mark Douet

 

The first Act took a little time to settle. Alexander Joel led the ROH Orchestra through a pretty work-a-day reading of the overture in which some unfocused intonation seemed visually symbolised by the precariousness of Sofia Formia’s vulnerable Gilda, perched high on an extending platform, peering tragically into the gloom.

The ball scene was less divertissement than downright debauchery. McVicar leaves us in no doubt of the nature of Rigoletto’s role at the Duke’s licentious court: he provides ‘entertainment’ in the form of facilitating violent seduction and rape, and the assault on Monterone’s daughter - accompanied by hedonist whoops of the fornicating couples and avid voyeurs, and a vicious prod from Rigoletto’s staff - is played out for all to see. There’s no sense of a ‘dance’, though there’s plenty of movement, wild and ugly, as well as much intrusive noise, including the thump of Rigoletto’s crutches as they stab at the floor. Vale’s leaning, metallic wall - which swivels to reveal Rigoletto’s tumble-down shack - is a steely silver, an apt emblem of the emotional coldness and cruelty of this Renaissance den of iniquity, though Tanya McCallin’s costumes add some welcome colour.

Fabiano Duke.jpg Michael Fabiano (Duke of Mantua). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

The sense that things might escalate out of control was exacerbated by disagreements about tempo between stage and pit, which created musical disequilibrium to match the dissolution of morals. Into this maelstrom, Michael Fabiano flung a roaring ‘Questa o quella’: there was no doubt of this Duke’s power and presence. But, the physical and vocal swagger which characterised Fabiano’s account became ever more coarse, loudness replacing legato: this Mantuan libertine was certainly a dissolute pleasure-seeker but there was little sensuality in Fabiano’s singing. There was a tendency to shout rather than seduce in ‘È il sol dell'anima’ and Fabiano seemed to make no attempt to imbue ‘Parmi veder le lagrime’ with aristocratic elegance; his Duke was a thug and his supposed sorrow merely superficial. I became increasingly puzzled by this interpretation as the performance proceeded.

Rigoletto Platanias.jpg Dmitri Platanias (Rigoletto). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

Dmitri Platanias’s leather-clad, crutch-wielding hunchback lumbered and lurched like an aggressive stag-beetle, his crooked jester’s cap-and-bells jiggling grotesquely. Platanias baritone was hardened with anger, swelling with barely repressed rage. Platanias released this fury with fire in ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ when Gilda is abducted by the Duke’s courtiers; but, he seemed emotionally disengaged during the father-daughter duets, absorbed by his own suffering rather than consumed with obsessive paternal protectiveness. This Rigoletto seemed to take no responsibility for the tragedy which ensues, and thus garnered little sympathy.

Sofia Fomina Gilda and Rigoletto.jpg Sofia Fomina (Gilda) and Dmitri Platanias (Rigoletto). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

Sofia Fomina has a big soprano and the top notes were powerfully projected, though a wide vibrato, particularly lower in the range, often caused the focus of the note to spread. However, dramatically the Russian soprano also seemed a little detached at times - I wasn’t convinced that this Gilda was intensely attracted to the Duke, overcome by unconscious, unfamiliar sexual desire - although Fomina’s commitment in the final scene was unstinting.

Andrea Mastroni was a fantastic Sparafucile, a man of the shadows, his evil understated but undoubtable: Mastroni’s sensitive, graded parlando in Act 1 told us all we needed to know. Nadia Krasteva’s richly coloured mezzo-soprano conveyed Maddalena’s voluptuousness and the Bulgarian singer acted persuasively. Several Jette Parker Young Artists acquitted themselves well - Francesca Chiejijna (Countess Ceprano), Dominic Sedgwick (Marullo) and Simon Shibambu (Count Ceprano). Despite his suit of armour, James Rutherford’s Monterone was disappointingly underpowered, his curse overshadowed by the general cacophony and depravity.

Andrea Mastroni and Platanias.jpg Andrea Mastroni (Sparafucile) and Dmitri Platanias (Rigoletto). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

When my colleague, Anne Ozorio, reviewed the 2012 revival of this production she admired the way McVicar ‘gets to the visceral drama’. I wouldn’t disagree with that … but, on this occasion, the bleakness that she notes was unremitting, as neither cast nor orchestra summoned the genuine, if fleeting, tenderness that tempers the machismo and malevolence.

This first performance in the run was dedicated to the memory of Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Claire Seymour

Verdi: Rigoletto

Duke of Mantua - Michael Fabiano, Rigoletto - Dimitri Platanias, Gilda - Sofia Fomina, Sparafucile - Andrea Mastroni - Maddalena - Nadia Krasteva, Giovanna - Sarah Pring, Count Monterone - James Rutherford, Marullo - Dominic Sedgwick, Matteo Borsa - Luis Gomes, Count Ceprano - Simon Shibambu, Countess Ceprano - Francesca Chiejina, Giovanna - Sarah Pring, Page - Louise Armit, Court Usher - Olle Zetterström; Director - David McVicar, Conductor - Alexander Joel, Set designer - Michael Vale, Costume designer - Tanya McCallin, Lighting designer - Paule Constable, Movement director - Leah Hausman, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Thursday 14th December 2017.

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