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Today Only: The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series is $25
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Much has been made of Juan Diego Flores' performance, and high praise accorded his bel canto singing. This is totally misleading. He sings hardly a bel canto note throughout the whole evening, nothing that would remotely remind you of a Gigli, a Schipa, or a Tagliavini. Instead, he sings throughout with a ringing heroic voice that sound more like an emulation of Bjorling or Pavarotti. It is initially thrilling, but it comes at a price, several in fact. Firstly, there is simply insufficient change in colour and vocal intonation throughout his interpretation, and very little convincing tenderness. Secondly, although he hits every note, even the highest, spot on, there is a hint of strain that gives his voice a shrill character that eventually becomes somewhat tiresome. My wife claims to have spotted evidence that he may have been hooked up to a body microphone; if so, it was a bad technical decision in an otherwise exemplary technical achievement. Poor old Flores also suffers harshly at the hands of his direcor and the designers. Normally one of the most charismatically xexy opera singers around, he is dressed here as an oaf with long straggly hair that greatly diminshes his physical appeal and makes him seem lascivious where he should be romantic. It is hard to see why Gilda and Maddalena were willing to give up their lives for him.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The only more fascinating performance of Rigoletto I can think of, after 50 years of listening, is the Callas/Gobbi one (the studio one, NOT the live one when Mme C sang sharp as chalk against a blackboard). But that performance is only on c/d's...and, let this be said out loud, not entirely faithful to the score (though even back then Mme C was leading the way by not concluding The Quartet with a high C).
Do, please, if you love this opera, treat yourself to this dvd. It will be a long time before you hear it better performed, I don't care what all star casts have already had their bash at it. This is the Rigoletto dvd I'm going to go back to.
Disclosures: I have no financial interest in its sales, nor any acquaintance whatsoever with the performers or anyone else involved. I'm just a plain old fashioned opry freak.
First the pluses, and they are huge pluses. The singing by the central trio and the chorus is, as most reviewers have pointed out, outstanding. It is highlighted by the pure tone of Diana Damrau, whose beautiful voice is capable of handling any of the score's challenges. The Serbian baritone, Zeljko Lucic, makes for a formidable Rigoletto, and Juan Diego Florez's bright tenor voice, soars brilliantly, and enthusiastically, up to the house "gods." The conductor, Fabio Luisi, also manages to elicit a forceful and spirited Verdian sound from the Dresden Staatskapelle.
Sadly, the rest of the production's variables are quite uneven. Sometimes, the sets lend an appropriate context to the performance (e.g., Act II, the Duke's palace), and at other times, they raise more questions than answers (e.g., Act I, the blue bedroom cubicle).
Some stage directors, including certainly Nikolaus Lehnhoff, seem to want to make sure that they're noticed, and in behalf of bringing a new, or unique, slant to a production, their creative impulse leads them to this or that idiosyncratic interpretation of a particular scene that might make some sense to a few initiates, but ends up, for the most part, distracting from the performance, rather than complementing it. The conspicuous nudity in Act I, for example, is going to get our attention, but is it really necessary. The sterile blue bedroom cubicle in the 2nd half of Act I is sufficiently unusual as to get our attention, but it seems more a lingering distraction than performance-enhancing. And the perplexing embrace of the Duke with Gilda during the opera's signature quartet in Act III is another example of an attention-grabbing absurdity.
Other problems exist with some of the acting. Lucic, especially, directs too much of his attention to the audience, instead of his daughter, during a couple of their poignant duets together. When, in the course of Rigoletto's forceful ode to vengeance at the conclusion of Act II, for example, Gilda sings, "O mio padre, what a fierce joy flashes in your eyes," their lack of dramatic coordination is all too evident, because she never could have seen his eyes, ... she is backstage, and he is front, facing the audience the whole time.
There may not be many better singing performances of this opera, but for dvds, my preference would be the Carlos Alvarez, Rigoletto (at Barcelona), with Inva Mula and Marcelo Alvarez as the Duke, although the jester's rubber suit that Carlos Alvarez has to wear was poorly conceived. My 2nd choice would be Leo Nucci's Rigoletto at Verona with Mula and Aquiles Machado as the Duke; the production values at Verona are quite satisfactory, even though they had to be particularly challenging given that this open air venue seats 20,000.
[It is worth noting that the picture and sound of this Lucic Rigoletto are of a high quality, although it is also worth noting that the Amazon product details contain a number of errors. For one, the production's aspect ratio is widescreen (1.77:1), and not 1.33:1 as listed. 2.) There are five different language subtitles, including English, although Amazon lists only the German. 3.) Running time is 130-plus minutes as distinguished from the 90 minutes listed. Lastly, the audio format includes 5.0 DTS surround, in addition to the listed two channel stereo].
Although the experience is of a RIGOLETTO that is distinctive and slightly disorienting, the liberties taken are properly in details, not in focus or theme. Verdi's opera is still, from its sinister opening measures, a bullet aimed for a spot right between the eyes. There are several things a director can choose to emphasize at the expense of other things, and Lehnhoff's is an unsparingly brutal treatment: a story of goodness trampled as a freakish thing in an environment that cannot sustain it. It is both valid and overwhelming. In the final scene, the pathos of Diana Damrau's death acting and Maestro Fabio Luisi's deliberate pacing (Luisi is all thrilling extremes: marathon-fast in cabalettas, with the saved-up time generously ladled out elsewhere) seem to go beyond fulfilling the requirements of a melodramatic formula. It's about a tiny light in a dark place being snuffed out, and a terrible world being left more the terrible for it. By the end, I was genuinely shaken.
There is such an emphasis from beginning to end on masks and hidden faces that it sometimes seems as though Lehnhoff is checking RIGOLETTO and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA off his to-do list simultaneously. Over that brief, menacing prelude, we see Rigoletto getting dressed for his day at the office and smearing on the greasepaint like Canio (he pointedly removes it as he returns home). The courtiers appear in many guises from scene to scene. They begin in outrageous (and impressive) animal masks, the stuff of a wild carnival, and are even more horrible to Count Monterone than the opera absolutely requires. For the abduction of Gilda, they are costumed as black flies. By "Cortigiani," they have made another transformation: leering, horned devils. Rigoletto futilely rages, begs, appeals to better natures that are not there. When he turns individual attention to Signore Marullo (Matthias Henneberg), the latter shows his true face, and though handsome, it is as cold and impassive as the mask that had hidden it. There seems not to be a soul or heart at all there, never mind the "gentle" ones of which Rigoletto pathetically speaks.
When Kyung-Hae Kang sang her first few gorgeous notes as the Countess of Ceprano, prepared as I was for the weak comparimario voice one usually gets in that part of a few lines, I knew this was going to be a real ensemble feast, not just a performance with a few stars surrounded by mediocrity. In the lead roles, Juan Diego Flórez (his wholesome looks successfully sleazed up with a quasi-mullet hair attachment suggesting club trash of about 20 years ago), Diana Damrau, and Zeljko Lucic have the equipment and the estate to make it all sound easy, and their performances take wing from that security -- they have a range of options at their disposal. A list of examples would be long. Flórez, as ever, can make the most hackneyed tenor items sound freshly considered. Lucic is not a fat-voiced Verdi baritone of days gone by (MacNeil, Taddei, Merrill), but there are color and shade to his instrument, as well as expressive warmth, and both this house and the microphones flatter him. Damrau's "Caro nome" is simply a breathtaking piece of singing -- the control and detail one always hopes to hear in this and rarely does, and every note and breath furthering an *idea*, not "decoration" but elaborative fantasy. Georg Zeppenfeld's Sparafucile (black shades and switchblade recalling the villain in WAIT UNTIL DARK) upholds the standard of excellence, and Angela Liebold actually squeezes an intriguing character of Giovanna, the duplicitous minder. Only Christa Mayer's zaftig Maddalena seems out of place: awkward on stage, without chemistry with Flórez, and vocally no more than satisfactory, though not harmful to the quartet.
While the lead trio is a well-matched team and no one is overtly trying to "win" the evening, it is Damrau's Gilda that will linger longest in the memory -- not only for the disturbing image she presents following the Duke's forcing himself on her: hair disheveled, skin scratched, white dress tellingly bloodied in a very specific spot. In her first scene with her father, Damrau had seemed to be overacting embarrassingly, and knowing as I did that she is generally a fine stage actor and that Lehnhoff typically does not elicit poor acting, I waited to see where this was going. And I saw ultimately that this Gilda was to begin as a real "child" -- not radically younger than specified in the libretto, but perhaps a manic, sugar-high, jumping-on-the-bed and pillow-fighting kind of teenager. She can hardly keep still to go to sleep, so atwitter is she over her amorous thoughts of "Gualtier Maldé." Her implied sexual awakening has her physically demonstrating excitement the way a young girl might on Christmas Eve or the last night before summer vacation begins. Knowing what we know is coming, it is heartbreaking. The behavior gets subtly calibrated by every subsequent exchange and every subsequent event; and by the time Gilda dies, Damrau is playing an adult who has achieved tragic stature. Brava.
If I have a single objection here, and it really is less something to affect one's buying decision than something for me to take up with Nikolaus Lehnhoff in a debate that will never occur, it is that I believe one important dimension of the opera is lost entirely: the monstrousness of Rigoletto. We *hear* about it, from him and from others, but we do not see it. No effort has been expended to make Mr. Lucic other than the handsome man he is. Rigoletto's much-discussed hunchback is there but barely noticeable. RIGOLETTO is about an innocent brought to her end by the "love" of two men who are both, in their fashion, monsters -- only the one is easier to spot. Rigoletto's obsessive paternal love has kept Gilda so sheltered and unworldly that she's defenseless when she becomes a young woman and attracts this more sinister brand of hovering male figure. The Duke *also* wants her all to himself (for a time) but his motives are darker. Gilda may have survived being in the orbit of one of these two; caught between both, of course she must be destroyed. None of this is in the RIGOLETTO of Lehnhoff. His jester is just a noble and devoted father with a job he hates (of course, the selfishness of his destructive quest for vengeance -- despite the begging of the daughter he would avenge -- cannot be gotten around). I grant that RIGOLETTO is a work that can take a certain range of approaches, but Rigoletto is a protagonist...never a hero.
Those with the broadest definition of "Eurotrash" (I failed to mention the modern dress) may want to stick with the Dexter/Levine Met performance of 1977 (Cotrubas, Domingo, MacNeil). But for its remarkable solo singing, conducting, orchestral playing, and choral singing (an incredibly precise male ensemble throughout, and "wind" effects in Act III that sound as eerie as Bartók), allied to a powerful dramatic presentation, the Virgin performance is the new essential.
And of course, I must be an old fuddy-duddy (very probable), but having partially nude party party guests in the opening scenes distracts me from the story being told and the singing being done...and after all, "the play's the thing". I am not so jaded as to find nude women (or men) business as usual, so I must deal with my squirmy distracted-from-the-opera-itself feelings because of it. I "get it"...the duke's a libertine and his court is dissolute --- I don't need to have a cartoon picture drawn with big black crayon and then a flashing neon arrow pointing to the "sexed-up bits". Likewise when the duke was mechanically "feeling up" Maddelena....unnecessary and distracting.
Diana Damrau was wonderful..vocally secure and detailed...and dramatically good although I felt was playing Gilda, not being Gilda. I never felt much for her in her portrayal, she just seemed so darned competent, not vulnerable and naive, but all things considered she was super. Lucic had very good moments, although his voice is limited and was not ideal. His portrayal likewise had some very good moments -- he is a believable Rigoletto and a very like-able actor/singer.
In my view, Florez was not a success. He is not a natural stage actor and his nervousness and discomfort transmit strongly to the viewer. His voice didn't quite reach to all the corners and crannies of the role and frankly disappeared here and there. I could have enjoyed him nonetheless if he wasn't such an awkward-deer-in-the-headlights-terrified actor. He was hands down the most unconvincing duke I have seen and I've seen a bunch (see fuddy-duddy remark above).
Loved the Sparafucile...a real black bass at last! The other players were unremarkable so I won't remark!