Rigoletto - Royal Opera House, 10 February 2009
No wonder David McVicar likes to direct his own revivals. When it's left to someone else, as it was here, you can see just what McVicar adds. He turns mere singers into McKellens and Denchs, titans of the stage, living, breathing characters. Subtract that and what's left is stylish but conservative window-dressing, Zeffirelli with t1ts. Everyone in this Rigoletto stood in the correct place and pointed in the right direction. But blank what-do-I-do-next faces and stock gestures don't make for compelling drama.
Conductor Daniel Oren's turgid pacing didn't help. In a few places, like the final act's storm scene, the music really came alive. The rest was ponderous and drab, sucking the life out of this most vital of operas drip by drip.
There were at least a few decent individual performances, though none of them came in the bewb'n'botty-splattered first scene. Perhaps they were distracted by the bared flesh wobbling away in all directions. At any rate, only the ever-dependable Iain Paterson as Monterone could summon up a creditable performance. Francesco Meli yelped like the understudy of an understudy; Leo Nucci simply shouted his way through. Car-crash stuff.
But something must have happened in the two long minutes it took the huge revolving set to squeak its castle wall side around 180' and display the humble shack hidden behind. When they came back Francesco Meli displayed a firm metallic light tenor, like a sort of heavyweight JDF. the sound is thrilling, even if not every note's quite on target. But he was no master of the court, let alone a rampant testosterone-fuelled predator - more like the Duke's kid brother in fact. It's not easy to be secksy in striped pantaloons but better direction might have lent him some authority. Or he could just watch Kurt Rydl, whose Sparafucile was positively scary.
Leo Nucci was - well - Leo Nucci. Maybe no longer the finest Verdi baritone around in terms of strictly technical beauty. The voice is rubbed bare in rather too many patches for that. But full of colour and character, and still able to sustain a melting legato.
For a soprano with Olympia on her resume, Ekaterina Siurina's top notes were surprisingly tentative, and once or twice craftily dodged altogether. But she has a naturally beautiful, silvery tone (and the most unbelievable Slavic cheekbones) and her Gilda was sweet and affecting. Probably the best performance of the night, certainly the most consistent.
There was plenty of enthusiastic ovating, some of it over the top of the music, but more of the glitter drops off this production each time it's aired. It's obviously tempting for Covent Garden to bring back its guaranteed bankers time after time, but they need more care the older they get, not less.