Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Pavé
Semperoper, Dresden
Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
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Diana Damrau Credit: Semperoper, Dresden

Giuseppe Verdi thought Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse, on which his opera is based, the greatest drama of modern times. Rigoletto premièred in 1851 with enormous success.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production, designed by Raimund Bauer and conducted by Fabio Luisi for Dresden’s Semperoper, was recorded in 2008. Željko Lučić is Rigoletto, the hunchbacked court jester. Diana Damrau is Gilda, his daughter. Juan Diego Flórez is the lascivious Duke.

I am completely put off by the total artificiality of Lehnhoff’s production. The first act begins with a mask ball and the masks (animal, bird, fish) and the costumes and the headdresses by Bettina Walter are so brilliantly fantastic they upstage everybody. I felt I was watching an Alexander McQueen catwalk fashion show.

The second scene, normally played out of doors, now takes place in Gilda’s bedroom with its blue walls, tiny child’s bed and no furniture. The set would do very nicely for a ballet. Gilda and the Duke behave as if they were the juvenile leads in a 1930s musical comedy.

The set trivializes the performances. Gilda and The Duke end up in bed together. We could be watching a French farce by Feydeau. The abduction of Gilda by a gang of courtiers plays like a scene in one of Matthew Bourne’s short comic ballets.

Act 2 has a grief-stricken reaction to the abduction, first from The Duke and then from Rigoletto. They are both completely upstaged by the chorus who are all wearing devil masks. The staircase and the black glass walls and glass floor make for a great tableau; but the tableau looks like something you could see at the Folies Bergère and distracts from Lucic when he is weeping and begging the courtiers to release Gilda.

Verdi’s operas are famous for his father-daughter relationships, but here again the staging has no reality. Lučić is a better actor than Damrau, who is hardly the young girl the story needs and her abandoned gestures and movement are very actorly.

The final act, one of opera’s great scenes and the famous quartet, another opera high spot, are appallingly directed. There is no atmosphere. The set is ugly and inadequate and the storm has no impact whatsoever. The singers and Verdi deserve better.

You can watch Rigoletto online for free on Euro Arts Channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch