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Verdi, Rigoletto:  at Värmlandsoperan, Karlstad, Sweden, 1.12 2009 (Premiere) (GF)

Directed by Tobias Kratzer

Sets and costumes by Rainer Sellmailer

Musical supervision and arrangements by Martin Wettges


The Duke of Mantua – Jonas Durán

Rigoletto – Peter Kajlinger

Gilda – Anna-Maria Krawe

Sparafucile – Johan Schinkler

Maddalena – AnnLouice Lögdlund

Giovanna – Ann Sigurdson

Count Monterone – Johan Wållberg

Marullo – John Kinell

Borsa – Jonas Olofsson

Count Ceprano – Kosma Rauner

Countess Ceprano – Anne Bolstad

Footman – Björn Edouard

Duchess of Mantua – Eva Ribbing

Flute – Mats Nilsson

Clarinet – Jonas Viklund

Oboe – Daniel Burstedt

Bassoon – Mario Saez

Viola – Thomas Heinemann

Piano – Elisabeth Boström, Sigstein Folgerö, Pär Jonsäter, Jakob Petrén & Bo Wannefors

For its most recent production – the previous one, still running, is Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard in its first Scandinavian production – Värmlandsoperan have moved from its usual stage in the old theatre, across the Klarälven river and a kilometre westwards to their substage at the Spinnery – a former industrial warehouse. The auditorium is small, housing 240 visitors, the stage is shallow and there is no room for an orchestra. For Rigoletto the young production team have divided the narrow stage into three – in the second half four – small rooms, which can be used independantly or simultaneously, connected with doors. Instead of an orchestra there are pianos in each of the rooms, employed one at a time or concerted.

When the audience are let in some minutes before 7 p.m. one of the rooms is fully lit: a kitchen with a kitchen-maid doing various household duties – and eating a bowl of soup in the midst of everything – while on the table a radio is spewing out old Swedish schlagers from the 30s and early 40s. This announces that we are in for a Rigoletto with a difference. When the last song is finished quite different music is poured out, dark, menacing, and the kitchen maid is horrified, covering her ears and bending deep down. Those of us in the audience who know someting about opera recognize the prelude to Rigoletto – the performance is on the go!

The adjacent room is suddenly lit and we are in the midst of a party going on in the palace of the Duke of Mantua. Now the pianos are manned, but there are other musicians as well, and throughout the performance they take part as integrated actors. The main burden is carried by the pianists – one in each room – but the other instrumentalists pop in and out of the proceedings, playing an introduction here, a second part to the singing there. The musical arrangements are outstanding, catching the atmosphere of Verdi’s original music and retaining important solos. Thus Gilda sings parts of Caro nome sitting at the kitchen table with the flautist opposite her – and the aria becomes a duet.

The score is performed complete and the plot is Piave’s, though modified to suit the prevailing conditions. The kitchen-maid turns out to be Maddalena, the sister of the murderer Sparafucile. She serves drinks to the guests at the Duke’s party and her brother is one of the Duke’s henchmen – fitting moonlighting for a guy in his profession! The action is down-to-earth, brutal and often illuminating, even to jaded opera habitués. There are many interesting confrontations, the most surprising perhaps in the last act: Rigoletto is standing beside the dead body, supposedly the Duke’s. It is wrapped in plastic and covering the face is the Duke’s jacket. Suddenly he – and we – hear the Duke’s voice, singing La donna e mobile, and Rigoletto can’t believe his ears. But in this version he gets immediate confirmation: the Duke walks straight into the room where Rigoletto is standing, petrified, nods at him, grabs the jester’s fool’s hood, puts it on his own head – and walks away.

This is just an isolated example of the fresh approach – and there are plenty of them. Scenically this Rigoletto is an unqualified success from beginning to end. But – there are hangups. One such, and to my mind a serious one, is the many streaks of farce. All right, they are cleverly done and an occasional laugh in a tragedy is not always out of place, but the frequent giggles and titters, especially during the first half of the performance, tend to overshadow the tragic elements in this dark play. That Gilda is an innocent girl is fully obvious without her carrying a teddy bear – and is it necessary that Giovanna tiptoes behind Gilda and the Duke during their love duet, and bangs down the scouring pail as in a bedroom comedy? I also think it was a mistake to let Gilda’s death develop into a wrestling-match with her father - quite extraordinary for a girl who has been stabbed by a professional. It robbed the scene of dignity and feeling, and this was the first time I left a performance of Rigoletto – and I have seen some – without having shed a single tear during the finale. I also have objections to the elements of sexual perversities shown, but this is so common nowadays that it seems almost obligatory.

The cast – a mix of veterans and rising stars – acted convincingly and with involvement. AnnLouice Lögdlund should be particularly mentioned for her pantomime before the opera began – and also for her slightly over-the-top seductress in the last act. Vocally it was a rather mixed bag. Head and shoulders – in more than one respect – was Johan Schinkler’s monumental and thunderous Sparafucile. Basses of that calibre are rare birds indeed. Peter Kajlinger took some time to warm up, but after a while, and in particular after the interval, his Rigoletto grew in status and in Cortigiani and the duet with Gilda he impressed greatly. The interval, by the way, occured in the middle of the second act, after the Duke’s long aria and the courtiers’ disclosing that Gilda was in the palace, which gave him plenty of time to rape her. Jonas Durán had the looks to make him a believable skirt-chaser and he revelled in his arias and ensembles with ringing high notes, though his tone was rather hard. On the other hand he was able to modulate the volume and sing some ravishing pianissimos. I am afraid Anna-Maria Krawe’s Gilda offered little pleasure, either technically or tonally; hopefully the latter aspect was due to premiere nerves.

It should be added that the performance is sung in Italian with Swedish surtitles. At the premiere there were some synchronization problems and I overheard members of the technical staff complaining about too little rehearsal time. This will hopefully be sorted out before the next performance, which will be running until March.

To sum up: this Rigoletto is fresh, fascinating and highly creative, and in spite of some less pleasing features it is certainly another feather in the hat for Värmlandsoperan.

Göran Forsling


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