Updated: Mar 26
Excellent Singing Makes For A Profound Performance
Pretty but Pointless
The Vienna State Opera's production of Rigoletto did its job, proving an appropriately grim staging for a very dark opera. However, it included some glaring strange elements that were impossible to ignore. For instance, the production included an elevator-like structure in the center of the stage that moved up and down in seemingly unnecessary moments such as during Gilda's 'Caro nome'. Perhaps the elevated structure symbolized Gilda's dream-like state as she thought about her lover. The production also included a rotating structure on the stage - much like that used in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Rigoletto - that spun from scene to scene to demonstrate a change in setting. Evidently, this idea of spinning the set as the action changes place is in fashion these days. Either that, or we have just simply run out of ideas.
In conclusion, the production was neither a distraction nor a highlight. Its grim set was excellent for the opera it staged, but it at times incorporated strange or unnecessary elements. Despite these unusual features, the production did not distract from the spectacular performances of its actors.
Francesco Demuro was a solid Duke, delivering what I like to call a good - but not great - performance. Demuro was consistent from start to end, and his act 2 aria was the highlight of his night. Though his singing was good, the flaw of his performance was that he did not stand out in scenes in which the Duke was the leading character. An example of this is was the first scene of the opera when the Duke sings of his many sexual conquests. Rather than depict the Duke as what he truly is - a scandalous villain whose actions would bring about the horrible events of the opera - his opening-scene character felt more like just another womanizer, with his show-stopping aria 'Questa o quella' not standing out as much as it could've.
If it were not for the otherworldly performances of his two fellow protagonists, perhaps Demuro's Duke would stand out more, but the singing of the rest of the cast was so magnificent that it in large part overshadowed his role. Overall, Demuro was a fine Duke - not the type to glorify the show on a whole in the way a Pavarotti would, but not one who will ruin it either.
Ludovic Tézier has long established himself as a top baritone in the world, and Rigoletto is a role he has sung many times. His deep, powerful voice perfectly fits the acoustic of the Vienna State Opera, and in this Rigoletto, he was as magnificent an actor as he was a singer.
In the first scene of the opera where Rigoletto confidently mocks the palace's courtiers and ridicules the Duke's friends, as well as in the ensuing duets with his daughter, Tézier's stage presence conveyed Rigoletto's paranoia, as he tried to protect his daughter from what he knew were dangerous people. In the second act, we saw a more assertive Rigoletto, as he furiously demanded his daughter back and resolved to have revenge on those who hurt her. Rigoletto's painful story was rounded out by a tear-inducing final duet with the dying Gilda, as well as by a chilling cry of 'la maledizione!' to end the opera. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the opera was the second act aria 'Cortigiani', in which Tézier's booming sound filled the house.
Star of the Show
Though originally scheduled to be sung by Rosa Feola, who also sang Gilda a few months prior in New York, the role of Rigoletto's daughter was taken over for the Vienna State Opera's second run of Rigoletto by the German soprano Vera-Lotte Boecker. Boecker did not only not disappoint - but took over the whole show.
Boecker demonstrated Gilda's innocence and naivete in every scene of the first act, as she gullibly believed the lies of the deceiving Duke. Her 'Caro nome' was sublime, with every note and every coloratura sounding perfect. In the last act, her Gilda was confident in her decision to sacrifice herself for the Duke, dramatically plunging herself into the arms of Sparafucile, prepared and ready for death. As she explained the reasoning of what she had done and begged for forgiveness in her final duet with Rigoletto, Boecker's voice was calm and collected - yet it penetrated the whole auditorium, and gave goose bumps to the audience.
Rounding Out the Night
Evgeny Solodovnikov's Sparafucile was superb. His deep voice traveled across the hall powerfully and his act one duet with Rigoletto was particularly beautiful - including a long low F that he absolutely nailed. Noa Beinart's Maddalena was excellent, seducing and luring the unknowing Duke to be killed before falling in love with him and saving his life. In the act 3 quartet 'Bella figlia del amore', she sang her part beautifully.
Unfortunately, I will not discuss the performances of the Orchestra and Chorus of the Vienna State Opera as they were too perfect to even be worth discussing. Frankly, one could never do anything but praise - let alone complain about - the brilliant Viennese orchestra. Marco Armiliato did a fine job on the podium, bringing out the tenderness of the moments between Rigoletto and Gilda in the first act, as well as the drama of the fiery scenes of the final act.
If you're a fan of Verdi, check out Appreciate Opera's review of the Metropolitan Opera's rendition of Rigoletto. Thanks as always for reading, and be sure to sign up to Appreciate Opera so that you're the first to read all the new reviews!
Alkis Karmpaliotis is a 15-year-old opera enthusiast living in New York. He founded Appreciate Opera in 2019. You can support him by subscribing to AO and reading through some of his articles and interviews.