(Rigoletto, Royal Opera, Royal Opera House, cond. Maurizio Benini)
I have been told directors pay per nipple per minute; assuming this is true and that something similar applies to chaps likewise, then the meter must have whirred this evening. And presumably that’s where the money went, as it didn’t go on a top-flight cast, conductor or production. I do not make a prudish rebuke: nudity is not of itself a problem provided that it adds something. And the lack of coherence in the production altogether means I am not even sure to what it might hopefully add. It served no purpose other than titillation, but that was the only apparent purpose of the first act. I feared, at this point, it was going to be a long evening.
The revellers at Rigoletto's orgy wasted no time getting going with things. Within a few minutes the stage was filled with topless lady and one unfortunate (or fortunate) chap had relieved of his trousers by some enthusiastic females. Girls kissed girls, boys kissed boys, and you were meant to be shockingly amused. Yet it was so effortfully done; it was just de trop. The orchestra could not be accused of getting after it. It took a good thirty minutes to warm up and this score doesn't allow for that.
The sound coming out the pit made even less sense – during the first act in any case. There wasn’t enough of it, and of what there was it was at the wrong speed, with the emphasis in the wrong places.Illness meant Saimir Pirgu replaced Pieo Pretti as the Duke. Once Pirgu warmed up, he was very good towards the end. Perhaps this was very short notice, as again, in the first act he was weak. Gilda (Eri Nakamura) clearly had a beautiful voice but it was shrill at the top end and it didn't sound right for the part. It lacked the warmth needed and which is exemplified so beautifully by the callas recording. This is not a round of the Flagstadt 1943 recording was better but an illustration of the major weakness would be provided by a cursory listening to the Callas 1955 recording which exudes warmth and tenderness. It was generally slow and quiet and failed to allow Verdi’s score to truly shine.
In smaller roles, Elizbeth Sikora made a wonderful Giovanna – and her costume was one of the few which really did add to things. It was dark until low on the shoulders when it turned white, creating a strong horizontal line, supported by superb and dignified deportment. Somehow it felt a bit like Whistler’s mother had started singing. And taking bribes. Alexandr Tsymbalyuk made for a villainous assassin. A storm, reminiscent of Verdi's rather better known one in Otello. No organs here but plenty of thunder; and it signals change and doom and tragedy to come The star of the show was Rigoletto (Dimitri Platanias), his deep voice, again once warmed up, was splendid, and made in particular for a touching but not particularly moving end.
It also all highlighted what a weird story this is. The appalling treatment of Gilda, so pointless, so cruel, carries no repercussions for anyone other than Gilda and her tormented father.
It was all being relayed to large screens – I am enormously in favour of these things, but it meant it started three minutes late, and that there were increased inter-scene and inter-act pauses for explanations to the assembled masses.
It was a decidedly un-charming production. The so very common house rotating in the middle was used here to tolerable effect. Perhaps it hadn't been kept up since DG's unfortunate departure to the underworld from the ROH production earlier this year.
After a break the pace really picked up and so did the musicians' game. Indeed by the third act, if was really quite good and had gained intensity.
Overall, I think this showed a lack of rehearsal time. There are not many performances of this, and the changes in cast mean that it lacks time to gel. Even the curtain call was somewhat clumsy. I am starting to wonder if the Royal Opera needs to do fewer productions and rehearse more.
Generally an unattractive, uninspired and incoherent production; but some good singing made this not unenjoyable: better as it went along.
In repertoire until 6 October.