Okay, first off, it's a FILM version of the opera, so one can't quite judge it by the standards of a recorded live opera. After being a devoted opera fan for over 20 years, I need to mention that ANYONE, not only "newbies" will enjoy it. What I immediately noticed was the fact that the opera score is here without omissions, a problem that haunts many attempts of making a good opera film. "Otello" or "La Traviata", for instance, are superbly staged, but they suffer from many scene omissions, which can be upsetting to the fans. Not the case here, at least I could not find any without having to retrieve my copy of the score and compare it line by line.
The absolute revelation for me was Mr. Ingwar Wixell. I've heard his voice many times, particularly on early Verdi recordings brought to life by Lamberto Gardelli. Well, here he sounds even better, plus he proves himself as one of the best singing actors I've ever seen. At the first scene at Duke's palace, Rigoletto is plain disgusting, no wonder that Monterone curses him. By the way, Monterone is played by Wixell as well, and I was surprised by the sonority and great low register that his baritone is able to produce. Later, he's a obsessively loving father and a mischievous "vendicator". Loved Feruccio Furlanetto's Sparafucile! I could not believe it was he under all that makeup, but the pitch-black quality of his voice is unmistakable. Edita Gruberova has long been one of the world's leading high coloratura sopranos. Indeed, to be able to accurately negotiate Gilda's tessitura, one needs a spectacular high range. Sutherland also had that kind of high register, but Gruberova was a better choice cinematically, I suppose. Still, I wished for a subtler portrait of Gilda, but it had to do. Pavarotti's Duke is, of course, why most folks will buy this DVD. Well, he definitely gives a dashing Duke. He sings up a storm on a soundtrack (including the impossible high ending of "possente amor") and a tongue-in-chick "la donna e mobile", his signature aria. He overplays a bit, but he's a lot of fun to watch. Since he does not have to sing and move at the same time, he really bounces around quite a bit and looks very much at home throughout.
The film depicted the court of the Duke in the most accurate way. They're quite like vultures, and appropriately dressed in black. Marullo is sang by none other than Bernd Weikl, but played (wonderfully) by an actor. Even Giovanna is cast luxuriously - it's Fedora Barbieri who does not only provide a great voice, but also some much-needed comic relief in this fairly dark opera based on Hugo's "The King Amuses Himself". Riccardo Chailly conducts with gusto, but also with proper sensitivity.
Overall, it's a well thought-out film, I could not think of a way of making it any better. Even the often messed-up abduction scene is quite believable here. The subtitles are not bad, and the picture on DVD is a LOT better than on VHS or LaserDisc.