By James Karas
Imagine Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Judge Roy Moore and a couple of dozen other sexual predators with women available to them in a milieu where they are the law unto themselves. The result would be an orgy where the men can use and abuse the women as if they were objects and discard them at will.
That describes the opening scene of Rigoletto as directed by David McVicar in a revival of his 2001 production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. When the lights go on, a disheveled woman comes out holding her clothes against her body. She starts crying and we know that she has just been raped or at least sexually abused. We will soon learn that she is the daughter of the courtier Monterone in the court of the Duke of Mantua where an orgy is in progress. The predatory men chase woman, grab them sexually, simulate coitus and act in an animalistic manner that is as frightful as it is abhorrent.
The women’s breasts are exposed, one man is undressed completely and the courtiers crawl on all fours as if they are jackals. Rigoletto ridicules Monterone about his daughter’s and his humiliation. Monterone’s daughter on stage is McVicar’s invention and we will see her several times crouching on the floor and being abused by the pigs of Mantua. She is damaged goods and men can do whatever their animalism inspires and their imagination conceives.
Rigoletto is about the Duke’s deformed court jester who amuses his lecherous employer by ridiculing the other courtiers. It is a bad job for a man who is hiding his beautiful daughter from the moral black hole of the court.
The production has an extraordinary cast that fulfills the vocal and emotional requirements of the opera to the hilt. Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias has a big voice that can express contempt and deep emotion with exceptional resonance. This Rigoletto, in addition to being hunchbacked, has crippled legs and needs two canes to hobble around the stage. He expresses his scorn and ridicule of the courtiers, his deep love of his daughter Gilda, his terror at being cursed and his hatred (a major gamut of emotions) with astonishing finesse and range.
Soprano Lucy Crowe as Gilda is the picture of beauty, innocence, indeed purity, with her blonde hair and simple but attractive white dress. No wonder the Duke says he is in love with her. Crowe matches those physical attributes with a clarion voice of splendor and luster.
Tenor Michael Fabiano as the Duke and chief predator is completely amoral and feels entitled to do whatever he wants with whoever he wants. Fabiano’s vocal power and strutting leave no doubt about the Duke’s abusive abilities. He has a strong voice that he commands like a fine-tuned instrument. A delight to the ears.
Bass Andrea Mastroni has a deep, sonorous voice quite becoming to a principled assassin who provides a public service. Well, sort of, but if you must hire one, go to him as Sparaficile but make sure his sister, the slutty Maddalena (well dome by Nadia Krasteva) is on holiday in Bulgaria.
The set by Michael Vale is in keeping with McVicar’s raunchy interpretation. The ducal palace looks more like a large steel shed. There is not a single indication of elegance or wealth let alone civilization. Sparafucile’s place of business is understandably grungy and his street office is logically in the down-market part of town.
I should note that the revival director is Justin Way. Stats-crazy operaphiles, may want to know that McVicar’s 2001 production has been revived seven times. The most recent revival before the current one was in 2014.
Alexander Joel led the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a vigorous performance of the score in a richly thought out, nuanced and superb production of Verdi’s chestnut.
And if you don’t see this production, you will have to settle for lurid stories about American politicians, business executives and stars without the benefit of music, singing and a great night at the opera.
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave continues with some cast changes until January 16, 2018 at the at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.