David McVicar’s 2002 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto was premiered and has been revived with starred casts, such as the one featured on DVD. The staging is about a revolving set that suggests rather the Bronx than Mantua, while failing to portray the Duke’s palace, Rigoletto’s house and Sparafucile’s lair. It works better framed by the cameras. It has called some attention by the somewhat graphic orgy in the opening scene, but the only shocking thing about it is the way it interferes with synchrony in ensembles.
This is my first time in an amphitheatre seat; I cannot tell therefore if what I heard was only the effect of the hall’s acoustics: voices sounded unnaturally loud as if they were miked and the orchestra seemed brassy, recessed and dry. The fact that John Eliot Gardiner was the conductor was the main source of interest this evening to me, but under these circumstances it is hard to say much. I had the impression that the conductor wanted a lean orchestral sound, clear articulation and propulsive, agile tempi. If this was indeed the case, it proved to be an a priori approach: the house orchestra is no Vienna Philharmonic and failed to fill the auditorium and his leading soprano and tenor struggled with the maestro’s fondness for a tempo phrasing. Lucy Crowe at least has an excuse – this is her first Gilda and a replacement for Ekaterina Siurina.
I confess that I was at first disappointed to learn that I would miss the lovely Russian soprano, but retrospectively this proved to be quite rewarding. Crowe does not have an Italianate voice, lacking brightness above all; however, her lyric soprano is developing into something really interesting – the tone is rich, the low register is solid, the volume is quite generous for her Fach and she can yet trill and produce high mezza voce. Sometimes one feels an irregular support, what brings about grey-toned patches, unfocused notes and some tension. One tends to forget all this, given her musicianship, good taste and commitment. That said, what I could “read” in her singing this evening is an eventual shift into a Countess/Fiordiligi and maybe, who knows?, Agathe/Arabella in a couple of years, if she does not get carried away with the prospects and burn herself out before that.
I must confess as well that I was hoping to see Francesco Meli as the Duke, since Vittorio Grigolo’s Alfredo in the Deutsche Oper Traviata last year gave me mixed feelings. Well, I am glad I could see him in a role – and I don’t mean this as a compliment – closer to his personality. Although this tenor gave many examples of his skill this evening – mezza voce, tone coloring, clear divisions, firm high notes – these things seemed less related to the demands prescribed by Verdi than by his whimsical intent of making an impression. The fact is that he is unacceptably free with note values, making Gardiner’s life very difficult and putting his debuting Gilda in a very dangerous situation in their duet, when nobody got an entrance rightly.
I had never heard the name of Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias before, but I will hardly forget it now. It is a very powerful voice, hard-edged in a Gobbi-esque manner, the kind that seems almost even more exciting when on its limits. Although he is not an electrifying stage presence, his singing is always gripping in its raw energy and vivid declaratory phrasing. It is curious that, in a cast where the high voices were very economical with optional high notes, the baritone seemed eager to take every one available, most excitingly in the closing scene.
Christine Rice was a fruity, string Maddalena and Matthew Rose a firm, dark-toned Sparafucile.