(Previous section here.)
According to the booklet, the designer of this production, John Dexter, wanted to recreate the palette and general mood of the Venetian painter Giorgione, whose famous “The Tempest” was a kind of template (for the director) for the opera’s final scene, which takes place during a storm. I am not sure I am qualified to assess the success of this idea – I’ve never seen the painting in person and I think that the sets probably looked more impressive in the house than they do on 1970s videotape. The Duke’s palace looks like a palace; Rigoletto and Gilda live in a dungeony, catacomby sort of area with a lot of gratings; the inn is definitely and unambiguously an inn.
But the concept isn’t really the draw here. If you close your eyes, it’s hard to take issue with this performance. The best things about it, for my money, were the eerie, looming overture (James Levine is conducting) and, as far as orchestral music is concerned, the various solos, e.g. the cello in Rigoletto’s “cortigiani, vil razza dannata” where he is raging at the courtiers and pleading with them to release Gilda. There are some arpeggios at work in that cello part near the end that made me wish I could adjust the sound so as to put the orchestra forward a little bit more.
We also get some atmospheric oboe playing at the beginning of Gilda’s “tutte le feste al tempio” and (I think it was the oboe again – it was woodwinds of some variety anyway) during one of Rigoletto and Sparafucile’s conversations toward the end where there is a single, long held note that indicates things are probably about to go from bad to worse.
The most exciting singing came in roughly the second half of the opera – Rigoletto (Cornell Macneil) and Gilda (Ileana Cotrubas)’s duet at the end of Act II, as Rigoletto is swearing vengeance is great, as is the series of ensembles towards the end of Act III where you have everyone plotting and emoting at cross purposes all at the same time. It occurs to me that this is the most interesting part of the opera because Verdi can do what he does so well, which is highlight doubts and ambiguities and mixed motives via both interwoven solo parts and the orchestral music – and in this opera, in terms of ambiguities and mixed motives, a lot of that is happening in Act III. Or at the very least, even if these characters are not all at war with themselves in quite the same way as in some of Verdi’s other operas, at least all the dramatic irony that has been building up smashes together at that point.
What this production made me think is that I want to see an even darker performance of this opera. The opera suggests that perhaps Rigoletto’s mocking of the courtiers is even more biting or awful than he realizes – or, that the power differential between the aristocracy and him is greater than he realizes, or something like that. I bet it’s possible to perform this opera in such a way as to lean on that a little more – or perhaps give Gilda an unpleasant side somehow? – so that you get a sense of “this is horrifying” pretty much from the get go.