Thursday, 19 April 2012

Verdi's Rigoletto at the cinema

Photo: Johan Persson
As part of the Royal Opera House's continued series of cinema screenings, the latest on offer was a live transmission of Verdi's Rigoletto, and I went along to the Duke of York's cinema in Brighton to see it. There was a decent sized audience and quite a buzzing atmosphere, which gave an air of expectancy to proceedings. Before the opera, we were given a short behind the scenes documentary, and a synopsis from Tony Pappano. 

The opera began, and we quickly realised that there were no subtitles showing. I believe this was a problem in only some cinemas (the transmission was broadcast to 700 plus cinemas around the world). Not knowing Rigoletto at all well, my initial thoughts were that this would be a real problem. However, I actually found that it didn't get in the way of following the action at all - a testament to the acting performances, perhaps. I am sure that some of the subtleties of the libretto were lost on me, and it would definitely have been a different experience with the subtitles. But the removal of any distraction from the visual and aural experience actually made for greater immediacy and immersion in the emotions of the story. I am sure that there were some that were disappointed or unhappy about the lack of subtitles, but I have to say it certainly didn't spoil my enjoyment. 

Now to the performance. The atmosphere from curtain up was dark, decadent and sumptuous - the deep reds and browns are straight out of a Caravaggio painting.  The chorus delight in the debauchery, and we are treated to some full-fronted nudity - male and female - well this is a David McVicar production!  The darkness is carried right through the opera - the central set is consistently dark grey and brown, and virtually the only colour is deep red, perhaps prefiguring the bloody final scenes.

Photo: Alastair Muir
Dimitri Platanias as Rigoletto was captivating, and stole the show for me.  The role is a huge sing, and he maintained a commanding level of intensity, not even letting go in the curtain calls.  Vittorio Grigolo played the Duke as a lively, unstoppable rogue, with physical and vocal athleticism throughout, clearly enjoying the role.  Ekaterina Siurina as Gilda was convincing, showing great tenderness, and her cadenza duet with Grigolo was a masterclass in vocal control.  Christine Rice made the most of the relatively small role of Maddalena, and Matthew Rose was menacingly secure in the role of the assassin, Sparafucile.  Gianfranco Montresor as Monterone, who curses Rigoletto at the start of the opera for mocking him over the rape of his daughter (the aforementioned nudity), was perhaps less authoritative than he could be, but otherwise solid in the role.  I was particularly impressed by the acting throughout, including that of the chorus members.  One of the differences that a cinema screening brings is in the use of close-ups, and this can be quite testing for the less proficient opera actors, but not here. 

Conductor John Eliot Gardiner elicited precise yet rich playing from the orchestra in perhaps unexpected territory for the early music specialist.  In all, this is a great production, with some stunning performances - a great way to experience opera, and at a fraction of the usual price! 
Other reviews:
The Telegraph
The Independent
The Arts Desk


  1. The NY Metropolitan Opera does those sort of broadcasts to movie theatres here in the US. It is a wonderful way to enjoy great performances. We have only been once since my partner is not a big opera fan. It might be easier to talk him into it if that first experience wasn't a 21st century work that was pretty tough to sit through: "Dr. Atomic." It did have one aria that made the whole experience worth it: "Batter My Heart," from John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV.

  2. Yes, the Met broadcasts show over here too, at the same cinema where I saw Rigoletto, in fact. Not seen one of their's yet. Speaking of Dr Atomic, I saw it a couple of years ago at the English National Opera and was blown away - Gerald Finley was amazing. And that aria makes me cry!