Rigoletto - Royal Opera House, 11 October 2010
Viewing the gaudy corpse of a once-magnificent Zeffirelli production on the Met stage can make you wonder why his work was once considered bold and daring. Yet look at some of the frozen-in-youtube performances, the ones he actually, personally, directed – the famous Callas/Gobbi Tosca for example – and you sense the hand of a theatrical master. The difference between then and now of course is that then he was there to shape every detail of the performances. Over the years they’ve become debased and diluted by a series of indifferent in-house directors and all we see now are the vast, vulgar sets and the preposterous costumery.
Is David McVicar’s theatrical legacy headed the same way?
On its 2001 debut McVicar's Rigoletto was vital and thrilling and acutely characterised. A few revivals down the line and the captain has jumped ship. Less able hands are at the helm and it's probably under-rehearsed to boot, given that most of the principals have appeared in earlier revivals. All we’re left with is a spare, gloomy set and a story that relies too heavily on the mixed abilities of its principals for the telling. Even the notorious flesh-packed first act orgy scene was shrivelled and saggy - and I'm not just talking about the meticulously-waxed extra. Come back David - Art calls.
That said Dmitri Hvorostovsky was riveting in the title role. Whoever said he was wooden on stage? (Oops, guilty). Slung over a pair of crutches, he scuttled across the stage like a black leather spider, repellent yet pathetic. He sang as beautifully as the role allows, never forced, never straining for effect. His innate nobility and elegance should be all wrong for the part, but somehow he's magnetically perfect, even better than his last outing in this production about five years ago. Raymond Aceto's silky, menacing Sparafucile was nearly as good.
After the sad news earlier in the day, the evening was dedicated to Dame Joan Sutherland who, Elaine Padmore told us before the show, sang Gilda at Covent Garden in 1959. This time round it was Patrizia Ciofi who stepped into the part. She may be on the mature side for Gilda, but there's not a wobble in her convincingly girlish tone. A few notes were squeezed out, a few didn't land quite correctly, but that barely detracted from the beauty of the rest.
Wookyung Kim reprised his Duke from a couple of years ago. He has a genuinely beautiful Italianate tenor and admirable technique - no wonder he's won every competition going. But he sings like an automaton. All the notes were in place, yet he failed to move, excite or connect in any way. There's a singer who really, really needs the McVicar touch. The only major newcomer to this production was Daniela Innamorati as Maddalena. A smoky, foxy mezzo, she lacks that final degree of vocal control, but lent exactly the right colour vocally and physically.
Dan Ettinger made an uneventful debut in the pit. The overture was raucous and scrappy, and followed by an offstage band so quiet I could barely hear them in the amphitheatre (the section with the best acoustics, too). The rest was pedestrian at best, and flawed by repeatedly imprecise brass playing. Perhaps it'll improve with practice. The singing at least was enthusiastically received by the sort of audience who applaud over the orchestra.
production photos: Johan Persson for Royal Opera House
curtain call photos: intermezzo.typepad.com