Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Almost Perfect

July 14, 2007

Franz Grundheber as Rigoletto and Darren Jeffery as Count Monterone with cast
Photo: Clive Barda/ROH 2007

I return to the US this weekend but before I go, how about The Royal Opera’s revival of Rigoletto? Well, since you asked, it was actually quite good, though not quite as good as it could have been or may have been in the past. I think this revival has been a disappointment for some here given the quality of the prior outings. However, I myself have not seen David McVicar’s most excellent production before and have to say I can see what all the fuss is about. Modern looking without betraying the setting of the opera in any substantial way, it’s dark, eerie and intense. It relies heavily on atmospheric lighting to deepen the effect of the large slanted rotating wall that takes up virtually all of the stage. As regular readers know, Rigoletto is not my favorite opera, and when the curtain came up I thought, hey, this may be the one to change my mind.

Alas this was not to be. Despite really good performances from everyone involved, I never felt one-hundred percent committed to what was going on. Franz Grundheber’s Rigoletto was adequate but his voice seemed to thin out in some of the more vocally taxing moments. Wookyung Kim, here as the Duke of Mantua making his ROH debut, sounded great but often threw his arms about as if the bigger his arm gestures, the more threatening he would seem. I don’t think he’s developed the acting chops yet to pull off the lothario stuff. Conductor Renato Palumbo kept things moving along, but I felt he was having to back off too much to make space for some in the cast to be heard at times.

Of course, there is an exception in Patrizia Ciofi who is returning to the role of Gilda here and sounded wonderful. She sailed above the orchestra with beautiful control and almost made her character’s decision to sacrifice herself to protect the man who has betrayed her seem quasi-believable. That’s saying a lot in that I don’t think this is a humanly possible task. Still, all things being equal, this is one worthwhile production that, while it may have faded some from its initial glory, still carries a number of thrills that make it worth seeing.

Now here’s the real question. Do I abandon my tickets this evening for a preview of the National Theater’s new production of Pinter's The Hothouse in favor of seeing the Colin Davis led Cosi Fan Tutte revival at ROH with Dorothea Röschmann and Elina Garanca? Stay tuned for details.

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