Oliver Mears’ production of Verdi’s Rigoletto recorded at Covent Garden in 2021 looks and feels like the work of a British theatre director. There’s nothing particularly weird about it. The Personenregie is careful and precise and the emphasis is on text and story telling. The opera house element perhaps comes into play in the rather impressive visuals including an extremely dramatic storm scene.
The duke’s court is set up to resemble a gentleman’s club; dark wood and leather. He’s an art collector, as well as a woman collector, and the stage is dominated by a giant version of Titian’s Venus d’Urbino. The implication is the that the duke may be a “disgusting person” (Antonio Pappano’s description) but he has good taste; especially in paintings and women. In the context of the court Rigoletto is highly traditional with a traditional jester outfit. Otherwise the setting could well be contemporary. It’s a world where money and power imply unfettered access to attractive young women. Prince Andrew would be at home.
There are some interesting visual touches. The scene where the duke turns on Monterone is particularly nasty and there’s an arresting visual in the kidnap scene. Sparafucile is particularly sinister and the storm is spectacular but, basically, it’s pretty straightforward.
The real strength lies in the performances. All the principal characters act and sing really, really well. The pick may be Lisette Oropesa as Gilda. Her singing is precise, idiomatic and beautiful but it’s her ability to make Gilda seem like a real person with complex emotions that impresses. Carlos Alvarez is equally convincing as her father. This is proper post bel canto Verdi singing of great depth. He’s not afraid to show real emotion in the voice and he also acts very well. Liparit Avetisyan swaggers away as the duke with some classy tenoring and proper high notes. I really liked his acting in the scene where he’s trying to persuade himself that his love for Gilda has reformed him. Maybe. Nah. Where’s the next babe? Brindley Sherratt’s heavily tattooed Sparafucile is really nasty and his relationship with Maddalena (Ramona Zaharia) is interesting. He’s definitely her pimp, as well as her brother, and she seems to be so drunk or drugged that she doesn’t care about much though t’s clear there’s a strong physical attraction to the duke.
The minor characters are all more than adequate though I think I’ve heard more sepulchral Monterone’s than Eric Greene. The chorus, at times, seem to be going through the motions. One gets the impression that this is just one more in a long line of Rigolettos for them. The orchestra though is excellent. The ROH orchestra always seem to be when Pappano is conducting, especially in this kind of core Covent Garden rep. It’s wonderfully sinister in the Rigoletto/Sparafucile duet in Act 12 and utterly spectacular in the finale.
Peter Jones’ video direction is really rather good. This production and its sets look like they were made to be seen as a whole and Jones does that justice. It works on Blu-ray because the picture is excellent but I do wonder how it would look on DVD; especially given a rather dark lighting plot. Sound quality (the usual DTS-HD-MA and 24 bit LPCM stereo) is also vivid and realistic. There are useful extras on the disk too. There’s a good feature on the drama with Mears and cast members and another on the music with Antonio Pappano at the piano. He does that so well! It’s probably as well because the booklet is barebones with just a basic synopsis and no track listing. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.
This is a highly enjoyable disk. The production works, there are some classy performances and technical values are top drawer.
Catalogue number: Opus Arte Blu-ray OABD7303D