Rigoletto at the Royal Opera

Not going to labour this one. I, and the group I was with, had a rollicking good time.

True, the production could benefit from a little bit of oomph.  The opener is a bit of an unpromising start.  There’s something dispiriting about the Royal Opera Chorus doing ‘filthy’, which somehow always drifts in the direction of ‘bawdy’, and ends up looking like a 197os sitcom romp.  Those two that get stripped naked and pushed at each other are rather surplus to requirements, especially if they are just going to lie flopped on each other…

Hvorostovsky was fabulous.  Power, intensity and gorgeous tone were all in evidence, and his dramatic credentials were first-rate; in fact, a slight surprise given his usual hauteur in roles such as Onegin and Germont père.

Wookyung Kim has a fantastic voice and almost zero stage charisma.  He swirled his cape at one point like he was dashing off the set of Batman.  When Maddalena was trying to seduce him, she could have been rubbing her foot up and down the side of the sofa, not his crotch, for all he reacted to it.  But that voice is impressive: hefty, clear and bright, with a feeling that it responds well to Verdi.  It’d make a great concert performance.

We expected Ciofi, but illness had intervened and we got Ekaterina Sadovnikova instead, who is scheduled to sing in future performances of the run anyway.  It’s never a good way to start an evening at the opera, picking up one of those little slips.  As it turned out, I thought she was rather wonderful.  My partner had seen Ciofi on an earlier night, and thought that the more experienced soprano had the edge in terms of expressing vulnerability through the tone of her voice, and in floating the pianissimos that make parts of Rigoletto so magical.  I can’t make that comparison, but I was bowled over by the security and rich, warm tone that Sadovnikova produced.  I can see that a bit more delicacy would have benefited Caro nome, but in the dramatic sections and in the ensembles, her voice shone forth.  She was a convincing actress too, at her best in the last act when contemplating the choice before her.

Raymond Aceto was a powerfully dark, dangerous Sparafucile, with a secure, rounded bass baritone that just oozed menace.  And he was quite easy on the eye, I have to say, having prevously associated him with the cartoon Don Basilio in the ROH Barbiere di Siviglia.  Ho hum.  That’s when opera glasses come in handy.  More so than the romp in the first act, that’s for sure.  I’d quite like to see a Claggart from him…

Other cast members all held their own in this company, with Daniela Innamorati contributing a Maddalena of alarmingly smoky tone.  She was rather confusingly got up to look like Carmen from the ROH Zambello extravaganza and, what with seducing a tenor whilst an innocent soprano looks on, it all got a bit blurry.

What to say of the conducting?  It certainly romped along, and thundered to its doom-laden climax with tremendous effect.  Dan Ettinger had a tendency to pull tempos about so that it felt like everything shuddered into another gear at times.  No great harm, and certainly I think the general tone of the production was helped by his injection of full-blooded, raw dynamism.  One slight irritation was the start of La Donna è Mobile:  this chirpy little song always sounds incongruous amidst the surrounding histrionics, and no amount of explaining its function (in terms of summing up the Duke’s obliviousness to the impact of his behaviour) can really redeem it.  Ettinger’s approach was to start it off with the fruitiest, most rumbustuous  ‘oom-pah-pah’ imaginable, so that it really did announce itself as ‘the big tune’, presumably to shake awake the reluctant consumers in the Stalls.

A fab evening.  Lots of buzzy conversation afterwards.  I hadn’t seen Rigoletto for yonks, it was nice to be reacquainted.

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