If there are lingering doubts about the Royal Opera House's artistic renaissance after its mid-1990s doldrum years, David McVicar's gritty and sexy production of Rigoletto
should blow them all away. One of the principal reasons is McVicar's decision to emphasize the tyrannical nature of the Duke (beautifully sung by Marcelo Alvarez), and the appalling social injustice that springs from a corrupt leader: his court is a place of physical and sexual abuse (graphically, but by no means gratuitously, depicted). This violence throws the dual nature of Paolo Gavanelli's energetic, insectlike Rigoletto into relief, making his sycophancy seem all the worse and his vengefulness all the more sympathetic.
The singing and acting are first-rate. Christine Schafer has a gorgeous voice and an intelligent sense of phrasing, and plays Gilda as a frail, morbid creature whose ultimate self-sacrifice is as much an act of neurotic despair as of love. The production is also a visual and orchestral success. Michael Vale's set is a masterpiece of economy and Edward Downes draws some stunning playing from the Royal Opera Orchestra. This is undoubtedly the best Rigoletto committed to DVD thus far. --Warwick Thomson