The Festwochen’s Rigoletto (later to be the Met’s)

I think my favorite part was when Sparafucile handed Rigoletto his business card.

I wrote about Sunday’s premiere of Luc Bondy’s serviceable but mediocre Rigoletto for Bachtrack, and you can read the review here.

This production will be seen at La Scala and at the Met, reportedly in New York during the 2012/13 season. After Luc Bondy’s roaring success with Tosca, it’s something of a surprise he will be back at all (possibly the contract was signed long ago, and the La Scala connection is due to Stéphane Lissner, intendant in Milan and music director of the Festwochen). This production is rather better than the Tosca, and hovers around the weak average level of Met new productions. I would put it on a par with Bartlett Sher’s Hoffmann, a production it somewhat resembles in its dark, vague, slightly surreal ladies-in-underwear circus look. (The first thing that always happens when things get surreal is that women take their clothes off. Funny how that works.)

Basically, this is a traditional Rigoletto with an updated grimy look. George Gagnidze in the title role is the best part of the production, but he is generally working the usual Rigoletto clichés. I tried to find a little more in Bondy’s work in the Bachtrack review above, but I may have been reaching. Its combination of static sections, completely conventional moments, and a few added details already resemble the third or fourth revival of a once-interesting production.

But it’s still got stuff to piss off traditionalists. Let’s take a look at what! Also, more pictures.

(To be fair, the Met audience probably won’t be seeing this production the day after seeing a Stefan Herheim production, like I did. That was not advisable, though unavoidable. More on that one later today.)

The issues I see:
1. The set, though the work of important designer Erich Wonder, is ineffective and looks bargain basement. The first two acts are just some sliding diagonal walls (not really shown in any of the official production photos), the third act a two-level job that looked small on the Theater an der Wien’s stage. Resizing will be tricky: the Met is twice as big or so.

2. There is some doubling going on. First Rigoletto and the Duke wear the same color jackets. Then in Act 3, Maddalena and Gilda are kind of similar, and then Gilda dresses up as the Duke to die for him. This could have gone somewhere, but it didn’t.

3. There are a few non-literalisms. Rigoletto lacks a hump. The blocking in “Bella figlia” shows Gilda approaching the Duke but him not seeing her. I thought this last bit was rather good, actually.

4. Rigoletto kind of looks like the Joker from The Dark Knight. This would make him the second Joker I’ve seen onstage in an opera this season.

5. There are some ridiculous moments. There’s the matter of the ladder I described in the Bachtrack review, which seems like it must be a retort to those who protested the candle elimination in Tosca. There are the business cards. Giovanna sneaking the Duke behind Gilda onto her bed without her noticing him courts unintentional comedy. Gilda is carried off on her bed, not protesting as a bunch of masked men abduct her (really???).

6. There are some big gestures that are visually effective, such as when the mass of the chorus surrounds Monterone. But since we never get a feeling of power or corruption out of this court, the motivation is unclear. The court mostly spends its time gleefully skipping around in circles like Otto Schenk’s Italian peasants. Seriously, the choreography is bad. (Bonus: Karina Sarkissova is credited with “choreographic collaboration”–Sarkissova is the Staatsoper ballet dancer best known for getting fired and then re-hired after an underclothed photoshot in a Viennese men’s mag called, yes, Wiener.)

7. I actually thought the women’s dresses in the first scene were kind of fabulous. The random pantaloons ladies seemed like gratuitous male gaze decoration, though–maybe they could have had a dramaturgical function had Bondy done anything with them at all.

With a Duca and Gilda who can bring more individual personality to their performances, I can see this production being sort of OK. Uh, yay?

More pictures:


Photos © by Ruth Walz

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