Terrific - But Not For The Faint of Heart
John G. Gleeson Sr. | Frederic, Mi USA | 06/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Oh those naughty Brits! Who would ever have thought that nudity would be a part of a Verdi opera? Well, it is, in the first scene of Act I, and it is for this reason that I caution prospective buyers. But if you know the story of the libertine Duke of Mantua (originally the tenor part was to be King Francis I of France, but Italian censors said "no" to that), you will understand that the nudity and behavior of the Duke's court is that of a totally corrupt ruler. And although I was unprepared to see naked people in one of my favorite operas, it is, vocally, visually and sonically the very best operatic performance I have yet experienced on DVD. All of the singers are simply superb. Soprano Christine Schaefer is perfect in the role of Gilda; she is visually ideal as a young woman, and her vocal skills and interpretation are first rate. Marcello Alvarez, one of the two top tenors of today (the other is Ramon Vargas)is vocally stupendous as the Duke, yet from the outset, you will hate the character while loving Alvaerz' vocal interpretation. This Duke is a spoiled, arrogant, womanizing wretch! Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role brilliantly. His is a demanding part that requires substantial acting and vocal skills, and aside from an occasional excessive vibrato on sustained mid-voice notes, Gavanelli is simply great. Edward Downes conducts with both sensitivity and authority. The digital picture is first rate, but in this performance, the Dolby 5.1 sound has to be heard to be believed. It give a stunning depth and richness to the music, yet one is able to differentiate between instruments, and localize soloists on stage. So if you tend to the traditional, you may find the nudity and sexuality to be too much. But if you want to experience a vocally stunning and dramatically effective performance, you will not find better opera on DVD. But you may want to alert the neighbors, because this is one disc that will demand a boost in the volume control."
Grand opera! Grand production! Grand singing!
Scott Parsons | Sidney, OH United States | 01/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First - the subject of sexual content...I thought it was a startling attention grabber at the beginning and was very effective at portraying a corrupt society. It reminded me of another wonderful opera production that is also well represented on DVD: the English National Opera's wonderful presentation of one of Handel's many operatic masterpieces ARIODANTE.
Seeing this RIGOLETTO for the first time - I wondered why many outspoken opera-lovers object so much to nudity that would be barely noticed in a movie.
In any case - for post-modernists - this is an outstanding RIGOLETTO. It appears from other reviews that everyone appreciates the cast and well they should! It really does bring an opera to life more vividly when the performers look like they could be the characters they portray - and in addition to that, these people act and sing SO well!
If you read these reviews and generally feel repulsed at the idea of nudity in RIGOLETTO, then steer clear of this dvd. If you prefer videos of staged operas as opposed to movie versions (like the Pavarotti RIGOLETTO), this is for you."
Plaza Marcelino | Caracas Venezuela | 06/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Be prepared for a startingly novel view on this old warhorse. McVicar's production for London's Royal Opera brings out unabashedly all of the libretto's sexual tensions, usually only hinted at in traditional productions, stunningly laid out and planted before the viewer's very eyes throughout the whole work which characterises the production's conception. In purely vocal terms the very accomplished cast is led by the immaculate Gilda of Christine Schäfer (yes, the same one you encountered "singing" Pierrot Lunaire exemplarily for Pierre Boulez on a DG cd, of all people), prudently set apart by McVicar as apparently the only sane person in the whole lot of characters in spite of her falling for "Gualtier Maldé". The Argentinian Marcelo Álvarez is an outstanding Duke, cynical, libidinous and unhinbited as perhaps any other recent exponent of the rôle, his physical presence no doubt visually supporting this. Gavanelli is a Rigoletto vocally in the grand Italian tradition, right in timbre in spite of some occasional rapid vibrato but exemplary in his diction, a rather deranged character in McVicar's view who walks about the stage in crotches; one quickly sees why he's rightly sought after by the world's leading opera houses for this rôle. The other important parts, those of Sparafucile and Gilda, are also very well cast, especially the latter who must be one of the horniest Gildas on record. Visually, the production subscribes to current visions on the ways of people of wealth of four or five centuries ago: exquisite fabrics enrobing people who appear not to have visited a bathtub for many months (gone seem to be the days in which period plays, operas and movies showed immaculate participants). Sir Edward Downes' conducting with swift, vigorous tempi provokes inspired playing from the ROH's Orchestra and the sound really justifies your connecting your player to a quality sound system if you still haven't done so: it has to be heard to be believed. Décors & staging take full advantage of the ROH's recent refurbishing, Rigoletto's and Spafucile's respective dwellings depicting a timeless and appropriate shantiness of tin roofing and carton walling that recall today's third-world capitals' misery belts. Camerawork is very good, and curiously the BBC take great pains in making you believe this was taped live by inserting applause at the "right" places (like after arias and ensembles or at Sir Edward's entrances to the pit at the beginning of acts); only when this applause tends to sound the same one time after the other you begin to suspect and your suspicions confirm at the end --or at least so seemed in my case-- when applause de-synchonises with what's actually happening on stage when curtain calls are taking place once the work has finished, but this is only a minor quibble. And for a change, and this is a big plus, this opera dvd does bring extra material, with a plot lecture and an enlightening interview with the producer. If you are one of those who don't make totems out of the big figures of old but are rather looking for a current, up-to-date version of Rigoletto, look no further. Mind, though, that the production is far from the "good-to-introduce-the-kids-to-opera" world."
Verdi meets avant-garde, 1960s style
kaream | 01/08/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"First let me very briefly dispose of the purely musical aspect of this 2001 (not 1985 as indicated by Amazon) Royal Opera production staged by David McVicar. With any newly acquired DVD of an opera or ballet, I usually like to simply listen to the soundtrack without the distraction of the visual action, either soon after watching it the first time or sometimes even before, so that I can better concentrate on the music alone. Few DVD productions can match the best available on CD, and this Rigoletto is no exception. Without going into a detailed analysis, my overall reaction was that it's okay, but not particularly good; I quickly found much to be unimpressed with, or even dislike about, the conducting and each of the principals; and the shouts and clatter of the crowd in the first act intrude far more than the composer's intended rising and falling murmurs one would normally expect. All the same, granting artistic license in the interpretation of the score, this is by no means a poor rendering.
Turning to the visual presentation, I must first confess to generally preferring a traditional 19th Century look in most operas, but here Michael Vale's stark and spare (and uniformly ugly) sets, especially the torn chain-link fence, struck me as effectively symbolizing the cruelty and terror of Verdi's 'Rigoletto'.
But McVicar's reinterpretation does violence to the story itself, and its characters. Both the embittered jester Rigoletto, as stunted and twisted emotionally as he is physically, and his naive and innocent daughter Gilda, remain basically true to their proper roles. However, both the Duke and his courtiers are badly misread. The Duke of Mantua is a narcissist, a careless cynical libertine with the power of his 16th Century ducal court to command at least a facade of fealty from his courtiers. 'La donna e mobile' -- woman is fickle -- is meant to be supremely ironic, since it is the Duke himself, not at all the various women to whom he turns his attentions, who is 'fickle.' He makes a career of 'seducing' (in its older Don Juan sense implying a large degree of what we now call rape) every woman who might catch his fancy. We are given to understand that he has so 'seduced' many or most of the wives and daughters of the noblemen of his court. These courtiers, helpless to protest except under pain of imprisonment or death (e.g., Monterone), humor their Duke by encouraging and facilitating new seductions if for no other reason than to distract him from their own women whom they naturally have no desire to share (e.g., Ceprano). This is why -- despite Warwick Thomson's claim of its being "by no means gratuitous" in his Amazon review -- McVicar's opening orgy of flagrant bawds, improbably egged on by their menfolk, makes hash of the story, and emasculates the more subtle ironic horror of 'La donna e mobile.'
I have no problem with bared breasts, full frontal nudity, grotesque sexual play or nude simulated sex onstage, when it serves some purpose beyond merely gratuitous titillation -- and particularly when it doesn't throw the sense of the story out of whack. Here McVicar in his reaching for the shock of the new seems to have borrowed a page or two from 1969's 'Oh! Calcutta!' Today when we need only turn on a computer or go to a neighborhood movie theater to find full frontal nudity and explicit sex, there seems to still persist a smugness about how openminded we can be on encountering this sort of thing in the Royal Opera House. From McVicar's interviews, it's clear that he's toying with his audience, sexing-up his productions to see what he can get away with.
After writing this I have come upon Melanie Eskenazi's professional review online, which finally breaks from the crowd in not fawning over this 'Rigoletto'; she makes different points and in more detail, but I agree with her entirely.
Addendum: If you're really looking for NC-17 opera complete with full nudity, passionate seduction, violent degradation, rape, and murder, where it all is actually integral to the story rather than gratuitously twisting the story out of shape, check out Petr Weigl's film of Shostakovich's 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk', set to the definitive Rostropovich recording with Galina Vishnevskaya, Nicolai Gedda and the London Philharmonic. Portions of the musical score are cut for the film, and the Russian soundtrack is lip-synched by Czech actors, but the synchronization is expertly done, and the film is emotionally stunning in a way that entirely escapes McVicar's 'Rigoletto'. Amazon also lists two other productions of this opera, but I haven't yet seen either of these."