Bitter and Twisted
Rigoletto, opera in three acts, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse, director David McVicar, orchestra conducted by Alexander Joel, Royal Opera, 14th December 2017, reviewed by LESLIE JONES
Giuseppe Verdi, like several other composers, passionately admired Shakespeare. As Susan Rutherford notes in the official programme (‘Attempting New Things’), in 1849, he drew up a list of plays that he thought could be made into operas. It included King Lear, Hamlet, The Tempest but also Victor Hugo’s verse drama Le Roi s’amuse. In the event, only the last idea came to fruition.
For Verdi, Rigoletto was his finest work. He regarded Hugo’s characterisation of Triboulet, the prototype of Rigoletto, as “one of the greatest creations that the theatre in any country or period could boast”. As in ancient Greek tragedy, Rigoletto is the play thing of the gods and by virtue of his character defects, instrumental in his own undoing. For as he himself acknowledges, there are divergent sides to his personality. Once at home, the cynical, world weary court jester gives way to the doting, over-protective father (of Gilda, played here by the technically gifted soprano Sofia Fomina). He considers the “vile, cursed race of courtiers” responsible for his moral failings and for his goading of Count Monterone, which elicits the latter’s fateful curse.
In this, the eighth revival of David McVicar’s 2001 production, there is partial nudity and simulated sex, including rape. The Duke’s dissolute courtiers behave like rabid dogs. Rigoletto’s disability is emphasised as he hobbles around the stage on crutches. Baritone Dimitri Platanias as Rigoletto put in a solid enough performance but he was upstaged by tenor Michael Fabiano, as the Duke of Mantua. Fabiano has presence in abundance plus a powerful voice. He comports himself with suitable swagger. And he can act. When he assumes the faux role of the lovelorn, impoverished student Gualtier Maldé, even he seems persuaded that he genuinely loves Gilda. Bass Andrea Mastroni, as the sinister assassin Sparafucile and mezzo-soprano Nadia Krasteva as his sister, Maddalena, also put in spirited performances.
“Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight!’ But on this occasion, everything worked to perfection – the chorus, the orchestra (ably conducted by Alexander Joel), the leading players, the sets – all made for a memorable evening. Aptly, the performance was dedicated to the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who died of a brain tumour on 22nd November. Who can forget his depictions of Giorgio Germont, in La Traviata?
Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR