Rigoletto - Royal Opera House, 30 March 2012
Numerous revivals down the line, David McVicar's Rigoletto (original director nowhere to be seen) is looking as flaccid as the solitary blink-and-you'll-miss-it todger that crowns its opening orgy scene. (An orgy which, incidentally, strikes me as considerably more heterosexual than on previous outings - anyone watching closely enough to confirm?).
Whenever John Eliot Gardiner got a bit of pace and excitement going (far more frequently than HIP-bashers might assume), we had to wait interminable minutes while the scrapyard scenery made its creaking way around the revolve.
Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias made his Covent Garden debut as the hunchback with the hump. A fine and subtle actor whose rufty-tufty physique belies the elegance and accuracy of his singing, his internalised interpretation may well communicate more strongly in the 17 April live cinema broadcast than it did in the house.
At the opposite end of the scale was Vittorio Grigolo, whose excesses cannot be entirely excused on the grounds that the Duke is a vulgar and preening character. Even if you'd scored a back row seat and forgotten both your glasses and your hearing aid, Grigolo's windmilling paws and stentorian delivery would leave you in no doubt what he was up to. For those a little closer, his interpolated swoops and gasps (inhalation as a dramatic device?) were an additional burden.
The great shame is that somewhere beneath the chest-clutching histrionics lies a singer with a keen understanding of the character, and the technical wherewithal to put it into practice. His firm and pleasant voice is in no need of extra-musical embellishment or unhealthy XXL volume, and beneath the ham lies instinctive dramatic insight. He may not be the new Pavarotti his PRs claim, but he's way more than the new Alfie Boe.
Pitted against the classical rigour of Gardiner's radically clean-limbed accompaniment, Grigolo's posturing often bordered on jaw-dropping absurdity.
Ekaterina Siurina's Gilda was a much more conventional interpretation. This is a signature role for her, ideally suited to her silvery tones, and a return to a production she knows well. But the very security of her delivery lacked the sparkle of freshness and innocence, not to mention pathos. Even her top notes, no longer easily accessed, were so artfully placed that any vulnerability was concealed. At times she even seemed more sophisticated than her rough-hewn father - which has to be wrong.
Of course no-one goes to Rigoletto purely for the Maddalena and Sparafucile, but Christine Rice and Matthew Rose were a near-perfect compensation for any reservations elsewhere in the cast. Elizabeth Sikora's devious Giovanna and ZhengZhong Zhou's confident Marullo were other standouts. A pity though that the Royal Opera House couldn't rustle up a more powerful Monterone than Gianfranco Montresor, whose ghastly curse carried the weight of a playground taunt.
Production photos (above) - Johan Persson/Royal Opera House
Curtain call photos (below) - intermezzo.typepad.com
Thanks to Kyoko for the curtain call video: