David McVicar’s memorable 2001 production of Rigoletto has returned to the Covent Garden stage, with very few changes. With his dark and intriguing take on the tragic story, the audience is kept in suspense throughout, and he has created an intelligent interpretation which does not seem to have aged in the eleven years since its first performance.
The striking reversible set — one scene the decadent palace, the next Rigoletto’s ramshackle home (which doubles as Sparafucile’s inn) — conveys everything it needs to without the need for clunky and time-consuming set changes. The famously bawdy and colourful opening scene was carried off with zealous commitment and lusty enthusiasm from the chorus, building the scene up perfectly for Rigoletto’s first comic entry.
Ekaterina Siurina sparkled as Gilda, with a rounded and well-supported soprano that glittered throughout the performance. Her confident demeanour on stage meant that the character was less demure and retiring than is often the case — which I found much more convincing. Displaying impressive power throughout her range, she also showed off some watertight coloratura passages and a heart-rending range of dynamics. Her spotless and tender ‘Caro nome’ was sung with genuine feeling.
Vittorio Grigolo was entirely convincing as the handsome and arrogant young Duke — not least in his performance of ‘La Donna e mobile’, which was taken at an extremely fast tempo, conveying the Duke’s carefree attitude. A powerful, open and energised sound allowed him to soar over both the orchestra and the excellent Royal Opera House chorus, and his cheeky use of dynamics in his scenes with Gilda and Maddalena added to the sense of seduction and flirtation. He performed with a captivating sense of energy and a huge stage presence.
Dimitri Platanias commanded the stage as a wholly believable Rigoletto. A robust and mellifluous baritone, with a startlingly large range, he conveyed all the pathos that the role requires whilst injecting all Rigoletto’s coarse humour into his jester scenes. Throwing himself completely into the role, he squeezed every last drop of emotion from Gilda’s death scene, and appeared to take his bows looking somewhat shaken (receiving a well-deserved standing ovation in the process).
In the supporting roles there were several notable performances. Matthew Rose as a tall and imposing Sparafucile was suitably threatening — not least after producing a very realistic knife from his pocket, which flashed under the stage lights — and displayed superb projection in his bottom notes. Christine Rice brought a rich and imposing sound to her worldly-wise portrayal of Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena, matching the three centrepiece performers beautifully in their quartet scenes. Gianfranco Montresor as Monterone displayed a smaller sound than the rest of the cast; this, rather disappointingly, somewhat lessened the impact of his curse, although he gave a confident and assured performance.
In the small roles, Elizabeth Sikora brought a dark and fruity mezzo-soprano to the role of Giovanna, the nurse. Susana Gaspar made a compelling Countess, displaying a warm and mellow sound for her brief appearance, matched evenly by Jihoon Kim as her Count. Andrea Hazell as the Page made a noteworthy appearance with her youthful, fresh soprano, Pablo Bensch was a confident Borsa, and ZhengZhong Zhou an intelligent Marullo.
They were supported by excellent playing from the orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner, in total command from the first chord of the overture and promoting flawless ensemble and spot-on dynamics. This stellar cast breathes new life into what is fast becoming a staunch favourite of a production —reflected in the extremely enthusiastic response of the opening night audience. It runs throughout April and will be broadcast live into cinemas on 17 April — which wil bring this excellent ensemble of singers to a new audience.