15 September 2013
A new star tenor? An example of his Duke of Mantua, if you are into that. From here.
An inspired concert performance of this dark-tinted drama.
Rigoletto not only announced Verdi's maturity as a dramatic artist, it is also better than most of his subsequent works. Perhaps Victor Hugo's source drama contributes but it is an uncomfortable, wholly Verdian idea to make the audience fall in love with the Duke, quite as much as Gilda does.
The second act is nearly perfect, though so distressing I can only assume applauding interrupting audiences aren't paying sufficient attention. The Duke sympathises with the abducted Gilda, swears vengeance, proclaims a new leaf, and is entirely convinced of it himself, according to the music. When he learns the girl was abducted for his benefit, he quickly forgets about her distress and focuses on his upcoming pleasure. When we finally see Gilda the tense duet with her father makes it clear she has been raped. Rigoletto gets bitter pleasure from the thought of vengeance, but the suddenly banal music shows it is a weak compensation.
Admittedly Gilda is a pathetic figure, of a type the composer avoided using again until his Desdemona, who is much more spirited. What might properly be her tragedy is transferred instead to her father, a more complex and unlikeable figure, even compared to the Duke.
It may be a flaw that we are manipulated into caring more for the two most unpleasant characters – the Duke and his jester – than for the person who sacrifices herself at the end. The drama’s verdict is damning. Both the fortunate sybarite and the wretched waspish Rigoletto survive, indeed thrive in some form, while the innocent lover sacrifices herself without meaning.
Given the bleak situation throughout the work, in direct contrast to at least the singing of the Duke and Gilda, this is much more of a conductor’s opera than is typically supposed. Recordings by Giulini and Sinopoli should have established that, and the recent Covent Garden performances with Eliot Gardiner confirm it.
I didn’t find Gianandrea Noseda quite as convincing as Eliot Gardiner, but my memory may be faulty, for it was still a very impressive performance with the LSO, even if they were reduced to ‘opera pit’ size. Only a few times did the prominence of the on-stage orchestra threaten to overwhelm the singing, but Noseda maintained the necessary momentum and when needed obtained suitably vigorous climaxes.
The cast were excellent, with some genuinely impressive acting, despite this being a concert performance. A highlight was when Rigoletto turns his back on his newly disgraced daughter: a response both understandable and horrific.
Dmitri Platanias was open-throated in the title role, and this is surely the only way to do it, much as it might wreak havoc with the voice. Desirée Rancatore was a limpid, girlish Gilda, though hers is a lyric not dramatic soprano voice. Saimir Pirgu’s Duke was appealing in both voice and appearance. Smaller roles were taken well.