Monday, April 22, 2013

Rigoletto under difficulties

There had been rather a lot of pre-production talk about the new Rigoletto at the Deutsche Oper (director; Jan Bosse) which opened tonight. From irrelevant staging of the now outdated kind to cast problems, and a few shades in between. So I went along with my expectations at low to zero. I knew at least, with Pablo Heras Casado at the baton, the music would be fine.
Well, it’s the best way to go. I had a much, much better evening than I thought I would. Some super singing, and a neat production and direction which merely nodded in the direction of the irrelevant.

The production was what I can only call ‘crafty’. The first half set (Stephane Laimé) is simply rows of yellow theatre seats. Why? Goodness knows. But this stage-filling collection of obstacles prevents anyone from moving in any but the most limited way, and allows the business of singing and acting the show to be got on with, with only simple moves and without distraction. Which makes the director’s job much easier, and is fine by me.

The second half, the set gets a fit of the John Napiers and creaks and grinds into other forms rather usefully before its disappears up its own back end, and leaves the most effective set of all – nothing – for the climax.

I don’t know what it has got to do with Rigoletto, but it was a wholly unoffensive background to the action, which also was wholly unoffensive.

The costumes (Kathrin Plath) were a mish-mash of style and period: Gilda looked like a kewpie doll, or the burlesque ingenue from Sweeney Todd, the Duke and his cronies were bad taste modernish (and same-ish, so I kept getting my Marullo mixed up with my Ceprano) and 90% of the budget went on a curious hairy gold lamé Incredible Hunk outfit for Rigoletto which belonged to no period. Only Maddalena, Sparafucile and Monterone looked interesting. But the frocks were harmless.

Of course, there were scattered catcalls and boos for the director at the final curtain, but they were ‘in principle’. The two men next to me had come to boo. Because it wasn’t Zeffirelli. There was nothing in the production to arouse a catcall. It was perfectly self-effacing.

And what of the performance that took place on and around all this. Well, there evidently had been troubles. We had a change for a tenor, and poor Lucy Crowe who was to have been Gilda was voiceless, and had to do her Joanna act in pantomime while another (very) young lady (Olesaya Golovneva) sang from the side of the stage. Three cheers to whoever arranged that. It was delicately done and worked famously.

The cast. Rigoletto was Andrzej Dobber. He must be famous, because he is so good. How nice to see a Rigoletto who is a proper man (he has after all fathered a daughter) and not a Quasimodo understudy. His ‘Pari siamo’ was super, his ‘Cortigiani’ was dazzling, his final scenes completely won me. You actually believed in the rather peculiar creature whom Victor Hugo invented. A superb performance.

Having seen Three Oranges last week, I ‘knew’ the members of the company, and it just shows you: always listen to someone in at least two roles. Clémentine Margaine, whose acting I admired more than her singing in the Prokofiev, slayed the audience with her voluptuous Maddalena and with a rich contralto voice that skated across the rows, to where other voices cannot reach. Best Maddalena I’ve ever seen or heard.
Albert Pesendorfer, boring as the King in Oranges, was a terrific Sparafucile, and what to say of Bastiaan Everink as Monterone? I mean, Monterone doesn’t get cheers. But this one did. And I was one of those cheering.

How to judge the two halves of Gilda? I thought it was bloody game of Lucy Crowe to accept to go on to someone else’s voice. But, goodness, if she sings the part better than her ‘shadow’, that I have to hear. Miss Golovneva won the audience’s hearts. Her ‘Caro Nome’ got a huge ovation, and not just because of the situation. My two neighbours were cheering their fat bottoms off.
But my heart went out to Lucy.

And that leaves the Duke. I don’t know what the politics of the thing are, and I won’t repeat rumours, but alas, Eric Fennell was insufficient. At first, I worried for my hearing. Two tenors in two nights whom I can’t HEAR? He can sing it. He got up to all the famous high notes and apart from a monstrous glitch in ‘Donna’ got through the role, but it sounded as if he was singing in the next room. And when Maddalena started in on him! She’d have eaten the mouse for breakfast. He was inaudible in the quartet.

Chorus? Not allowed to move or act (hurrah!) and sang ten times better than the Staatsoper bunch.

And in conclusion – after having told you what I think – what did the audience think?  Well, putting aside my fat friends and their friends who came with an agenda … the plaudits of the night, necessarily, went to the twin Gildas, followed by the star of the show, and then … Monterone and Maddalena (this audience knows its stuff).  Alas, they booed the Duke. He wasn’t boo-able. Just not up to this theatre.

So all the opera chat and gossip came down to … some very fine performances in a neat and useful setting. Even if its not Zeffirelli.

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