The main factor to take into account with this recording
is that it is a live, festival performance in the huge, 2000 year old
amphitheatre in Verona, second in size only to the Coliseum in Rome.
This would not be so much of a problem with one of Verdi’s works that
incorporates elements of French grand opera style – pageantry, processions,
dancing etc. – where personal dramas are acted out against a visible
background of great public/political/military events. Don Carlos
and Aida are such. Rigoletto, on the other hand, is an
intimate opera, the core of which is the series of duets between father
and daughter. Not only does Rigoletto not offer much in the
way of exploiting the vastness of the Verona setting, but there is a
problem for the producers in that some of the key moments will, for
the average audience member, be a matter of observing a couple of remote
figures planted amidst dozens of square meters of stage space.
DVD has the advantage over most of the audience in
this kind of situation because it can home in on the figures, and even
if it looks as if shot through a telephoto lens (which no doubt it is),
the results can be effective.
The producers have a generous budget at their disposal
judging by the lavish costumes, giant, moving scenery and the large
cast deployed in the first scene. They use every means they can to fill
the width of the stage but this can a have a downside for the DVD viewer.
For example, in the famous last act quartet the characters are placed
in two pairs well apart, the camera being forced to view one pair at
a time at the expense of the overall picture as all four sing.
Another way the size problem is tackled is to use large
gestures. An example is the characterisation which has the protagonists
acting out their roles in larger than life stereotype. Rigoletto, with
scowling face, sports a hunchback to rival that of Laurence Oliver’s
Richard III and Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo. Gilda is blonde and beautiful,
Maddalena a dusky, voluptuous beauty kitted out like a flamenco dancer.
Sparafucile looks like Salvador Dali in the biggest, black fur cloak
you’ve ever seen. Only the Duke fails to fulfil expectations, looking
like a rather podgy South American bandit. On the whole, the cast, strong
both vocally and in acting ability, project their personalities to fill
the Arena as best they can. They do an excellent job.
But here also, where there is a gain, there is a corresponding
loss. For example, Nucci’s otherwise fine Rigoletto lacks a little of
the extra subtle poignancy that is sometimes called for. This aspect
of his performance was observed by some critics in respect of his 1990
recording of the role with Ricardo Chailly and musical forces from Bologna,
Nucci’s home town (not that you would know that from the booklet – there
is nothing at all about the singers). Likewise, the Albanian soprano,
Inva Mula, projects a larger than life Gilda that is not altogether
in keeping with the demur, passive, immature nature of the character.
Her portrayal is more Rosina than Gilda,. Nevertheless, she looks and
sounds wonderful. A winner of the first Placido Domingo International
Voice Competition in 1993, she is a hugely talented actor/singer. The
famous Caro Nome aria, taken here on the slow side, is a marvel
of subtle coloratura control when it comes to the embellishments of
Vocally, there is not a weak link among the chief characters,
the main strength though is the father/ daughter stage partnership between
Nucci and Mula. Their teamwork builds up to a no-holds-barred climax
at the end of Act II where Nucci is at his best swearing vengeance,
sweat dramatically pouring. This final short number, with its hair raising
shift upwards half way through (the rising fourth ploy - a crude device
rendered irresistible by Verdi) is taken at breakneck speed, clearly
designed to bring the house down - which it would if there was one.
In an effort to overcome the disadvantages of the open air, the duo
seem to be projecting at the stars. The house duly and metaphorically
comes down as Mula hits a cracker of a top note on her knees. The two
of them then come out of character, Rigoletto straightening up so as
to strut around the stage basking in the applause. And then? Yes – the
encore, so well rehearsed that it has a completely different set of
stage moves, this time allowing Mula to hit the top in a grateful, upright
position. All this may not be in the best interests of the drama, but
I defy anyone not to lose their socks. This is the sort of production
it is: a live, festival performance, well captured for DVD.
If you want a new DVD version that is more responsive
to the demands of the tragic drama, then there is the splendid BBC Opus
Arte, Royal Opera version under Edward Downes. One or two eccentricities
apart, it is pretty solid all round and unlike the Verona DVD, it has
an informative booklet with some extra documentary material on the disc.
But if you want a bit of that festival occasion, then you might still
prefer Verona, Should you be in need of a quick operatic fix, then you
could do know worse than to wait for everyone to go to bed, put on the
earphones, and indulge in that Act II ending.