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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto (1851)
Duke of Mantua: Aquiles Machado (tenor); Rigoletto: Leo Nucci (baritone); Gilda: Inva Mula (soprano); Sparafucile: Mario Luperi (bass); Maddalena: Sarah M’punga (soprano); Giovanna: Milena Josipovich (mezzo); Count of Monterone: Giuseppe Riva (bass); Marullo: Andrea Piccinni (baritone); Borsa: Giovanni Floris (tenor); Count of Ceprano: Angelo Nardinocchi (baritone); Countess of Ceprano: Alessandra Canettieri (soprano); Court Usher: Tino Nava (bass); Page: Loredana Bigi (mezzo)
Orchestra, Chorus and Corps de Ballet of Arena di Verona/Marcello Viotti
Directed for the Stage by Charles Roubaud; Choreography by Alphonse Poulin; Art Direction by Bernard Arnould; Lighting Design by Fabrice Kebour; Costume Design by Katia Duflot
Directed for TV and Video by Pierre Cavasilas and Rosina Stefanini
rec. Arena di Verona, 21 July 2001
Sound Format DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, LPCM Stereo; Picture Format 16:9; Region Code 0; Disc Format DVD 9
TDK DV-OPRIGM [134:00]


I sat high up on the stone seats in the glorious Roman amphitheatre of Verona to see this production, with a slightly different cast. Speaking personally then, this DVD is a pleasant memento of a delightful, atmospheric late summer night in northern Italy and I am delighted to have it on my shelves. Whether it will necessarily bring the same delight to others is perhaps more doubtful.

One central problem relates, quite simply, to the very considerable difference between the huge space of the Arena and the very much smaller domestic space in which we normally watch our opera DVDs. Rigoletto is, in any case, not the most obviously suitable of operas for the Arena; there are relatively few opportunities for large-scale spectacle and there are a number of scenes which actually benefit from the kind of stage claustrophobia which the Arena is peculiarly ill-equipped to create. To some extent these problems – of which I was certainly conscious (though not destructively so) as a member of the live audience – can be partially overcome on the DVD recording, by means of the close up and so on. But this generates another problem. The size of the Arena – its elliptical site measures 465 feet by 360 feet – requires a theatrical idiom made up of large gestures; there is no room here for detailed facial expression or subtle body language. Characterisation has to be painted with a broad brush. Postures and gestures which successfully communicate across the large spaces of the Arena can sometimes look decidedly silly and over the top in close up. Some of the switches between long shots and close-ups are disturbingly abrupt. So there are a number of problems. With my fond memories of the real thing, I was more than happy to make allowances; others may not be quite so ready to do so.

Musically speaking, the production is something of a mixed bag. I am an admirer of Nucci’s Rigoletto, as seen here and in other productions. He conveys the character’s inner pain pretty well, especially given the particular difficulties alluded to above. He is powerful when in denunciatory mode; ‘Pari Siamo’ is particularly well done; the cry of ‘Ah! la maledizione!’ which closes Act I is spine-chilling. Later on he perhaps lacks the ultimate in poignancy, but he is never less than a commanding stage-presence and his voice, though without the bloom it once had, is admirably at the service of a consistent conception of the character. Inva Mula is rich-voiced, possibly too much so in the early scenes, but even in the early exchanges with her father there’s a suppressed sensuousness which gives an interesting dimension to her Gilda. She gives a beautiful performance of ‘Caro nome’, the coloratura passages precise yet gorgeous. At the end of Act II both Nucci and Mula are allowed – in a way that purists might object to - to milk the applause and indulge in a certain amount of vocal display. I enjoyed it too much to feel like offering much of a complaint!

As the Duke, Aquiles Machado is not much more than satisfactory, either as a stage presence or as a singer. He has his good moments, but never quite stirs the blood. Perhaps this wasn’t a particularly good night for him? There are no real weak links elsewhere, but not too much that is outstanding either. The choreography is rather bland. Viotti’s conducting is wholly sympathetic and generally perceptive.

So, unless you were there, like me, I can’t give this an unreserved recommendation. Nucci’s Rigoletto deserves a place on the shelves of any admirer of Verdi, and Inva Mula is very well worth hearing (and seeing). But the production as a whole is not of the very subtlest kind – in part due to the constraints of the Arena – and beyond Nucci and Mula the rest of the singing (with the partial exception of Machado) isn’t of an especially high standard. Still, even if this isn’t overall an absolutely first-class production, much of the opera’s very real power survives and no lover of Verdi is likely to regret seeing/hearing it.

Glyn Pursglove



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