An interesting and very enjoyable Rigoletto at ROH last night. I always forget – between encounters – just what a romping good piece this is.
With John Eliot Gardiner at the helm, it started coolly, almost subdued. The so-called ‘orgy’ on-stage (which never works, as I noted last time) didn’t suffer for that. As the drama deepened, the pacing and dynamics became more variable and responsive. As an example, the fantastic close to Act 2, Si, Vendetta!, started at a rather measured tread, slightly slow, prompting in me some slight surprise, but with each ‘stepping up’ of the musical frisson, just a little extra pace was added, ultimately powering the music to an exciting climax. The storm scene was as thrilling as it should be. Some of the ‘plushness’ had been taken out of the orchestral sound, which worked in the raucous, dramatic moments, but lent an astringency to the accompaniment of the more sensuous passages. Maybe a ‘first night’ issue, but there were some hairy moments of timing between stage and pit.
McVicar’s production is long-standing so I won’t labour its issues: its huge central revolve remains gloomily-lit, but broadly effective. The orgy has the required gay snogging on the periphery, as well as token (and embarrassingly slilted, not to say flaccid) nudity. It tells the story with relative efficiency and minimal adverse intervention however, so some gratitude is due even with the occasional directorial misfire (for example, in the Act 2 close, Gilda says a ‘cold light has entered your eyes’ to Rigoletto, but how she can know, when she’s been standing behind him and he’s been facing us for the last five minutes, is something to wonder at…)
Of the cast, there were a couple of completely outstanding performances, and one which was (for me) a complete disaster. Ekaterina Siurina was a Gilda combining secure, warm and bright tone with remarkable dramatic vulnerability. Her death scene was very affecting, and she shaped her declining voice beautifully. As Rigoletto, Dimitri Platanias was in heroically-focussed voice, with some completely thrilling exclamations of ‘Maledizione!’, and the burnished tone so evident in his pleading with the courtiers in Act 2 scarcely wavered when required to drive the more forceful outbursts. If it wanted for a bit more abandon and ‘grit’, then that’s only a minor carp, and maybe some of that will develop through the run.
Elizabeth Sikora was an effective Nurse; Matthew Rose was a relatively straightforward Sparafucile (missing some of the danger of Raymond Aceto); and Gianfranco Montresor didn’t quite deliver the voice of retribution as Monterone. Christine Rice despatched Maddalena with her customary dramatic and vocal quality, despite being pawed intrusively by an over-eager Duke.
Which brings us to the evening’s main flaw: the Duke of Vittorio Grigolo. There are doubtless those who would rave about his hyperactive, loud and vivid performance. I disliked it intensely. I grew very tired, very quickly, of the loudness, the lack of subtetly, the hammy arm-flailing, the bouncing off both the scenery and other cast members, and the failure to shape any vocal line with grace or elegance. Had he been singing La donna è mobile in Covent Garden Piazza I would have thought it decent; on the stage of the Royal Opera House it was appalling choppy and shapeless, making it sound like the unsubtle ballad-song it has unfortunately become. Even when it returned off-stage, at the moment when Rigoletto is about to dispose of the body, it scarcely sounded ‘in the distance’, so loud was it. Maybe it was first-night nerves and will settle down. I hope so, even though, as I say, I am willing to admit that this may be a matter of taste and there will be those who thoroughly enjoy his performance. I’ll be interested to see what people say.
Quick catch-up: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Since last writing, I’ve also been to Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at ENO. A thoroughly enjoyable evening. A witty, clear production by Richard Jones that did well to keep motoring through some of the early longeurs of the first half, and which employed some clever and fun ideas for Olympia’s doll song and for Giulietta’s act (Giulietta = Amy Winehouse, who downs the poison meant for Hoffman, hence her too-well-known fate). In the Antonia act, there was some nice stage business with villains flitting in and out, appearing and disappearing.
Georgia Jarman encompassed all four heroines with tremendous aplomb, as though a different actor/singer in each act. Barry Banks was an unflagging Hoffmann, and Christine Rice was in fine voice as Muse/Nicklausse. Simon Butteriss gave a delightful comic turn in each act, from a dragged-up assistant to the doll-maker, through to a hapless gangster in the Giulietta act. Anthony Walker kept things cracking along in the pit. After that first long stretch was out of the way, great fun was had.