Opera Film Review: Rigoletto

rigoletto royal opera house

Rigoletto features some of Verdi’s best music, and there’s lots of it.

This film presentation by Event Cinemas at Westfield Marion of Rigoletto was captured live in December 2017 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  The production is a revival of David McVicar’s esteemed 2001 production which saw a fearless approach to depicting the cruel debauchery of the privilege of the rulers in the Renaissance, where blind obedience to the ruling class was expected and none more so than from women.  In short, it’s cruel.  Roll the clock forward to the here and now, replace the Renaissance political ruling class with the stars of modern day show business, and none of it goes down well at all.

Despite the rave reviews the production has had over the years in all it various revivals, this production sadly doesn’t quite live up to the hype.  There is much to enjoy, but it doesn’t quite nail it.  For starters, American tenor Michael Fabiano doesn’t quite come across as the despicable creature that he should.  His singing is glorious, but his acting lets him down.  As the seducer of Gilda (played by English soprano Lucy Crowe), he comes up trumps and he plays the role almost as a sincere suitor, but his intention is of course to simply ‘get his rocks off’ and then discard her.  This doesn’t come across well enough. In some senses, Crowe suffers at the hands of this lack of characterisation, because the drama and reasoning behind her ultimate sacrifice is almost impossible to understand.  Crowe however made a fabulous Gilda.  Her sweet and strong soprano line cut easily across the might of the orchestra.

Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias sang the title role of Rigoletto.  He is a large man and he captured the role with eloquence. Rigoletto is a sad, corrupt and cursed man who, with his physical disabilities, is able to gather some sympathy to himself, and the audience are meant to have a love-hate relationship with him, which is exactly what Platanias’ performance captures.  His first scene with Gilda clearly underlines his love and tenderness as a father.

The set was elaborate and moody, but it often detracted from the action.  Drama was lost in corners and in shadows, especially in the brutal orgy scene that opens the opera.  There was a lot of naked flesh cavorting on the stage, but in some ways, it was frivolous, lacked punch and not as shocking as it could have been. (This however might have been a result of the cinematography choices that were made – who to keep in frame, who not, what should pull the focus, what should not etc.) The scene changes were lengthy (in modern terms) and this reviewer would almost have welcomed additional scene change music to keep the sense of drama alone (but of course Verdi is no longer alive to consult on that point!). The work of the chorus was at times suspect, from a directorial point of view.  The Duke’s minions were at times almost depicted as the human equivalent of wild pack dogs who were being whipped into a feeding frenzy. As laughable as it was excessive.

Still, with all those misgivings there is still the music and the glorious singing.  Rigoletto features some of Verdi’s best music, and there’s lots of it.  There’s no such thing as waiting a long time for the next musical feast.  It just keeps on coming – an embarrassment of riches, almost.  Conductor Alexander Joel kept the pace tight-right at the upper limits-and the signature instruments came through clearly.

This screening is still worth catching.

Check out the event cinema’s site here.

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