Film & TV

Film Review: Opéra National de Paris: Rigoletto

The Paris Opera’s new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 operatic melodrama Rigoletto, captured live on film from the Opéra Bastille in Paris on 26 April 2016.

This film presentation by Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas of the Paris Opera’s new production of Rigoletto was captured live from the Opéra Bastille in Paris on 26 April 2016. It runs for a little over three hours, which includes an interval, and is sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Rigoletto is a melodrama in three acts composed in 1851 by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on “Le roi s’amuse” by Victor Hugo. It contains some of Verdi’s most lyrical and best known music. Everyone knows the famous quartet (“La donna è mobile”) at the beginning of Act III!

The story revolves around the licentious Duke of Mantua (tenor Michael Fabiano), his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto (baritone Quinn Kelsey), and Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter Gilda (soprano Olga Peretyatko). Rigoletto aids and abets the Duke to procure women to satisfy his frivolous ways, but a courtier whose daughter is seduced by the Duke places a curse on both the Duke and Rigoletto. The curse plays itself out and results in the death of Gilda who falls in love with the Duke and loses her life when she attempts to save him from Sparafucile, a hit-man hired by her father.

Director Claus Guth’s design concept is an interesting one: he introduces two mute “doubled characters”, one to double Rigoletto, and the other Gilda. Rigoletto’s double is constantly on stage and we look back through his eyes on the sad recent events of his life that culminate in the death of his beloved daughter.

The curtain rises at the start of Act 1 to reveal Rigoletto’s double during the overture. He clutches at a cardboard box in which he carries his jester’s costume and the bloodied dress of his dead daughter. From this point on we discover that Christian Scmidt’s entire set comprises a huge monochromatic version of the cardboard box. This underlines the fundamental design concept of Rigoletto looking back on the tragic, depressing and pitiable sum of his life.

Gilda’s double appears only in two scenes – once in Act II and then again at the very end of the opera – and it is in these that the design concept works particularly well. In Act II Gilda explains to her father that she has fallen in love with a young man whom we, the audience, know to be the Duke, but she doesn’t know that. Rigoletto is enraged and resolves to seek retribution. On stage we see Gilda, Rigoletto, and their doubles: Gilda’s double is a vision of innocence and purity, while Rigoletto’s depicts a broken man who is plagued by the titanic regrets he is later to have about this very moment when he swears the vengeance against the Duke that will ultimately results in his daughter’s death. Olga Peretyatko sings “Tutte le feste al tempio” (“On all the blessed days“) beautifully, and she combines masterfully with Quinn Kelsey as they sing the duet “Sì! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta!” (“Yes! Revenge, terrible revenge!“). At other times, Rigoletto’s double is often a distraction.

This scene was a highlight of the opera: it was very affecting and visually impactful. At various times there were projections onto the rear wall of the set that gave a colourful and welcome interruption to the otherwise stark set. Act III also sees a fabulous Weimar cabaret-inspired scene in which the Duke is attempting to seduce Sparafucile’s sister, Maddalena. The colour in the chorusline of feathery-attired dancers was a visual highlight of the opera, and Vesselina Kasarova sang Maddalena with great style and accomplishment. Michael Fabiano downplayed the Duke’s licentiousness, and sang him almost as an inoffensive and naive young man who is simply in love with love. Rafal Siwek portrayed and sang Sparafucile with great foreboding and menace.

As a film, this particular opera presentation doesn’t work as well as others in the current Palace Opera and Ballet season. It is visually unspectacular – in fact dull – notwithstanding the emotional and dramatic intention behind the monochromaticism.

The highlight of the production is, of course, the high calibre of the singing. Michael Fabiano, Quinn Kelsey, and Olga Peretyatko were quite exceptional, and Nicola Luisotti drew the best out of the Orchestre de l’Opera national de Paris.

Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Twitter: @theatrekym

Rating out of 10: 7

Rigoletto will screen again on 15 June 2016 as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting the Royal Opera House, La Scala, Opéra National de Paris and Opera Di Roma, exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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