The Royal Opera – Rigoletto [Hvorostovsky & Ciofi]

Rigoletto – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Duke of Mantua – Wookyung Kim
Matteo Borsa – Iain Paton
Count Ceprano – Lukas Jakobski
Countess Ceprano – Louise Armit
Rigoletto – Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Count Monterone – Michael Druiett
Sparafucile – Raymond Aceto
Gilda – Patrizia Ciofi
Giovanna – Elizabeth Sikora
Maddalena – Daniela Innamorati

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Dan Ettinger

David McVicar – Director
Leah Hausman – Revival Director & Movement Director
Michael Vale – Set designs
Tanya McCallin – Costume designs
Paule Constable – Lighting design

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 11 October, 2010
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Rigoletto (Royal Opera, 2010). Photograph: Johann PerssonIn his production of “Rigoletto”, David McVicar grabs the whole ghastly package of gloomy, pointless Italian machismo and pushes it over the edge into violence and bleak, desensualised carnality. For this revival (its fifth), the opening orgy scene seemed a bit perfunctory and jaded, but it still made the point about McVicar’s low expectations of this brand of male humanity. Apart from Gilda herself, there is hardly anything to temper the overly masculine, leather-and-iron carapace of the designs – it’s the Mad Max of operatic dystopia.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s first performances as the world’s least funny jester in this staging, in 2005, radiated a gripping, very Russian ferocity, like a dark star, with the power to bend Verdi into Mussorgsky. Five years on, and he is even more impressive, his sleek, Slavic good-looks totally erased by his crab-like costume, and his sinister scuttling around the stage even more unpleasant. It’s a measure of his presence that he seemed almost too over-the-top in the first act, but he had certainly started as he meant to go on, and from the second scene onwards he was magnificent, rising effortlessly to one melodramatic peak after another, and subjecting his voice to extremes of expressiveness.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto & Patrizia Ciofi as Gilda (Rigoletto, Royal Opera, 2010). Photograph: Johann PerssonThe intensity of Hvorostovsky’s Rigoletto made complete sense in his connection with Gilda. She was radiantly sung by the Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi, with a wonderfully pure and light tone. She’s the most convincing Gilda I’ve heard in a long time; she delivered a thrillingly intimate, technically impressive ’Caro nome’ that was both musically and dramatically very satisfying, and her crossing the threshold to her murder is one this staging’s great moments. This particular father-daughter combination is powerful stuff.

Set against a jester from Siberia was the Duke, sung by the Korean tenor Wookyung Kim. His voice is elegant, bright and flexible, but he wasn’t convincing as a vessel of unbridled licentiousness. ‘La donna è mobile’ lacked the layers if cynicism and emptiness that are there for the taking, and as a lover he seemed almost coquettish. Among the other principals, Raymond Aceto was a superbly cold-blooded Sparafucile, with a decidedly unbrotherly interest in his sister Maddalena, a robust portrayal from Daniela Innamorati; and there was a splenetically vengeful Monterone from Michael Druiett. The chorus was on superb form.

Conducting, Dan Ettinger (making his Royal Opera debut) went for the production’s blackness in a big way, opting for explosive fortissimos and high-definition contrasts. His approach suited this uncompromising production well, even if Verdi’s orchestral palette does admit to a few more colours. Ettinger certainly has the measure of middle-period Verdi’s concision and melodrama.

This latest revival, directed by Leah Hausman, made the staging much tighter than I remember it, and while Michael Vale’s monolithic set sort of takes its cue from renaissance Mantua, it succinctly sums up urban dilapidation of any age. This is the Royal Opera firing on all cylinders.

  • Rigoletto – ten further performances at 7.30 p.m. until Saturday 6 November (12.30 p.m. on Saturday 30 October)
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto and Patrizia Ciofi as Gilda on 11, 14, 19, 23, 27 & 30 October and 2 November
  • Paolo Gavanelli as Rigoletto and Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Gilda on 16 & 21 October and 4 & 6 November
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera
  • Interview with Patrizia Ciofi
  • ROH Rigoletto 2009
  • ROH Rigoletto 2007

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