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4.6 out of 5 stars24
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 27 June 2003
Be prepared for a startingly novel view on this old warhorse. McVicar's production for London's Royal Opera brings out unabashedly all of the libretto's sexual tensions, usually only hinted at in traditional productions, stunningly laid out and planted before the viewer's very eyes throughout the whole work which characterises the production's conception. In purely vocal terms the very accomplished cast is led by the immaculate Gilda of Christine Schäfer (yes, the same one you encountered "singing" Pierrot Lunaire exemplarily for Pierre Boulez on a DG cd, of all people), prudently set apart by McVicar as apparently the only sane person in the whole lot of characters in spite of her falling for "Gualtier Maldé". The Argentinian Marcelo Álvarez is an outstanding Duke, cynical, libidinous and unhinbited as perhaps any other recent exponent of the rôle, his physical presence no doubt visually supporting this. Gavanelli is a Rigoletto vocally in the grand Italian tradition, right in timbre in spite of some occasional rapid vibrato but exemplary in his diction, a rather deranged character in McVicar's view who walks about the stage in crotches; one quickly sees why he's rightly sought after by the world's leading opera houses for this rôle. The other important parts, those of Sparafucile and Gilda, are also very well cast, especially the latter who must be one of the horniest Gildas on record. Visually, the production subscribes to current visions on the ways of people of wealth of four or five centuries ago: exquisite fabrics enrobing people who appear not to have visited a bathtub for many months (gone seem to be the days in which period plays, operas and movies showed immaculate participants). Sir Edward Downes' conducting with swift, vigorous tempi provokes inspired playing from the ROH's Orchestra and the sound really justifies your connecting your dvd player's audio output to a quality sound system if you still haven't done so: it has to be heard to be believed. Décors & staging take full advantage of the ROH's recent refurbishing, Rigoletto's and Spafucile's respective dwellings depicting a timeless and appropriate shantiness of tin roofing and carton walling that recall today's third-world capitals' misery belts. Camerawork is very good, and curiously the BBC take great pains in making you believe this was taped live by inserting applause at the "right" places (like after arias and ensembles or at Sir Edward's entrances to the pit at the beginning of acts); only when this applause tends to sound the same one time after the other you begin to suspect and your suspicions confirm at the end --or at least so seemed in my case-- when applause de-synchonises with what's actually happening on stage when curtain calls are taking place once the work has finished, but this is only a minor quibble. And for a change, and this is a big plus, this opera dvd does bring extra material, with a plot lecture and an enlightening interview with the producer. If you are one of those who don't make totems out of the big figures of old but are rather looking for a current, up-to-date version of Rigoletto, look no further. Mind, though, that the production is far from the "good-to-introduce-the-kids-to-opera" world.
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on 23 May 2009
Quite simply the most moving production of Rigoletto I've seen. After an earthy start showing the true decadence of the Duke's court, and a rather nervous opening aria from Marcello Alvarez the production suddenly steps up a gear with the appearance of the peerless Paolo Gavanelli as Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester who weaves his way across the stage like some malevolent spider, his sticks becoming extentions of his body as he moves about. The scenes between Gavanelli and Christine Schaefer as his doomed daughter Gilda are spine tingling, the duet between Alvarez and Gilda is moving and beautifully sung, in fact the longer the opera goes on the more assured Alvarez becomes. Rigoletto's cry for vengeance-'Vendetta' is stirring and of course, the quartet and La Donna Mobile never fail to excite. The searingly tragic ending-surely the saddest in all opera-never ceases to leave me tear stained and emotionally drained. A triumph.
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on 23 March 2003
Although the nudity in1st act maybe the reason some people will buy and other people won't buy this DVD,the main reason for buying David Mc Vicar's production of Rigoletto should be the outstanding performance by the main characters.Both the acting and singing are first rate,with the only exception of Marcelo Alvarez as the Duke which disappointed me a bit.
Christine Schaefer is perfect as Gilda,
Paolo Gavanelli is a great actor and a wonderful singer in one of the best Rigoletto performances I've seen.
Both the sound and visual are of very good quality making the purchase of this DVD a good bargain.
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on 5 February 2014
This production, the singing, sound quality and the staging place this DVD at the very highest level of operatic performance. I have always thought that Titto Gobbi was the definitive Rigoletto with his dark, dramatic and angry interpretation. Paolo Gavanelli is his equal in attack and drama. Christine Schaefer is a wonderful Gilda and the equal of Callas in this performance. The other principals are also outstanding.

The opening staging may be controversial, with bare breasts and brief nudity, but it is justified in emphasizing the dissolute and depraved atmosphere of the court that can allow the ruin of a courtier's daughter and the kidnapping of Rigoletto's supposed mistress. It is a dark and unpleasant land where at night one can be approached by an assassin offering to kill the person of your choice for 20 scudos. The staging underscores the story-line and the lyrics with dark, run-down sets.

The sound quality was outstanding. I played digital 5.1 through my amplifier and thought the quality of sound the equal of any CD.

This is the best staging of an opera I have ever seen and I doubt anyone will be disappointed.
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on 15 November 2013
What a performance !!!
Gavanelli is a Rigoletto that I don't think can be beaten.---totally believable performance
Top quality Royal Opera production
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on 4 May 2011
Well I suppose it is more love at first hearing. This is for Christine Schafer whose sweetness of tone, and portrayal of Gilda is the best that I have seen and heard. This is not to detract from the other two main characters, Alvarez is in his fine ringing tenor mode, and portrays a wonderful amoral Duke. Gavanelli is perhaps also the best Rigoletto, bringing home to me the characters dual standards in a way that I had not picked up before. The famous quartet is again absolutely wonderful, with the wide range of tonal qualities enhancing the different emotions of the characters.
The sets are somewhat spartan, but this does not detract as the acting of the support chorus aand minor characters overides any static scenery. The opening scene of the Dukes wild party makes others that I have seen look like a church outing. David McVicar is not always to everyones taste, including mine, but this is brilliant. I recomend
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on 13 March 2014
Absolutely rivetting production. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Well worth the purchase. Am now passing it around to all of my friends.
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on 16 November 2007
Rigoletto is one of my favourite operas, yet I hadn't found a DVD version that really got to me, until this one. Everyone I know recommends it, with good cause.

The start is rather risquee, but not in such a way as to lose credibility. As McVicar explains, he has taken a fresh look at how to show what a seedy, misogynistic world is being portrayed. The nudity is with this in mind, rather than cheap titilation. Right, that's that out of the way, onto business.

Because this DVD is all about the superb acting, singing and orhestration that sets it above other Rigolettos. Throughout the acting is first class, particularly of Gilda and Rigoletto, and the show has one strong voice after another - it really is a dream cast. I was really impressed with Gilda, who plays her innocent character well and really belts it out in the mesmerising Act 3. The orhestra performs to perfection: I haven't heard finer on any studio CD.

Altogether, my advice is to get it right first time, and buy this one.
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on 19 February 2015
Classy version of one of the great operas. It has real bite and brings out the violence and horror of the story along with some very fine performances. Christine Schafer looks and sounds the part of Gilda, and Paolo gavonello in the title role combines the qualities of tende father and dastardly jester with aplomb. Loved it. The filming is first rate and the minimal scenery works to perfection.
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on 2 August 2007
Okay, usually I rant on about the idiocy of trying to re-stage classic operas and outdo the creative vision of the composer. This has been a particular gripe of mine regarding Wagner operas.
On the other hand I would concede that it really does depend on the opera: if the particular location is of real significance, if the location is supposedly set 'outside of space and time', then it is pretty important to stick to the orignal script, so to speak. An opera based on a particularly significant historical event or period that tries to update for a modern audience by dressing up the characters as, for example nazis, is both patronizing to the audience in its assumption that they will have no understanding of the historical period originally conveyed by the opera, and it also serves to make a nonsense of the script (libretto) for the most part. A Wagner opera, on the other hand, that turns the Gods into mafiosi gangsters breaks our ability to suspend disbelief by placing our thoughts back into the real world.
So, the point? you ask, well this Rigoletto production quite cuts with tradition and this has been cited as a fault by some. It is, however, an opera based on a less than successful play by Victor Hugo - Le Roi s'amuse. The play was cut after less than two full showings due to its unpopularity and it was only Verdi and Piave that resurrected widespread interest in the themes in the play. The opera was originally set in Paris as a means of portraying the hypocritical and malignant rule of the French leaders in power at the time but this was censored and ultimately modified via placing the characters in an effective fictional world - the state of Mantua. On this basis, we can say that the world being portrayed in this opera is not of great historical significance; it is certainly not as important as, for example, sticking to the script when adapting the English history plays of Shakespeare - modernizing Richard 2nd to transform the characters into modern day politicians being a particularly irritating example of patronizing the audience in the manner I mentioned above.
I think that it is quite reasonable, therefore, to say that modernizing Rigoletto is artistically justified, at least if it is done in the right way. Again, it makes no sense to make the characters of Rigoletto mafia hitmen since this conflicts with out ability to suspend disbelief. On the other hand if the world is set, as in this production, in a somewhat nebulous domain, then we can focus rather on the situation as opposed to the place. This is what makes this production of Rigoletto seem credible to me. Furthermore, McVicar - as he points out in the documentary that accompanies the dvd of this production - has adapted this production to make it more shocking, in essence to manifest in a watching audience a sense of shock and horror in our desensitized age that might be comparable to that of the more polite epoch that was apparent in Verdi's day. I think this is quite legitimate although it is arguable as to the extent to which such a precise effect can be re-created by focusing on so narrow a dimension as 'shock value'. Nevertheless, the sense of Rigoletto's isolation and distress seemed more acute to me that in any other production I have seen precisely because the production and staging is so gritty and raw: in a word 'modern'. As McVicar mentions, the sweet music outer layer of 'Rigoletto' is neatly juxtaposed by the sinister psychological interior of the court aptly reflecting the central theme of the opera of the reality of exterior beauty often belying or perhaps concealing inner ugliness while outward ugliness may conceal depth and splendour.
I have seen a criticism of this production that the explicit opening scene serves to unravel the inner ugliness of the state and of the Duke all at once rather than allowing it to be gradually unpealed over the course of the opera. Perhaps this is a just criticism although I would suggest that making the brutality of the state immediately apparent helps us understand Rigoletto as a being who must play evil at the court in order to be accepted and survive and that only outside the court - the next scene - do we see that ultimately he has that within which passes show, his suit of woe being alleviated only in the presence of his daughter Gilda. This is all perfectly consistent with the vision that McVicar has of the opera and I think that it comes over more clearly here than in other productions I have seen.

Some other points regarding actual performances in this production. Paolo Gavanelli is truly outstanding! As good an acting-singing performance as you can get I think. Not only does he throw everything into his acting that he really does look genuinely upset at the end of the opera, but he sings Rigoletto with a sort of refined beauty. Rigoletto is often sung overly harshly but Gavanelli maintains the harshness of Rigoletto - the exterior ugliness - while allowing for moments of beauty to break out from within when he sings of his dead wife in the 'Dei non parlar di misero' piece and in other moments with Gilda. This really does add extra dimensionality to Rigoletto and again I think is consistent with the overall vision of the work as put forth by McVicar.
Other performances are not as strong by comparison: I am not overly keen on Schaefer as Gilda whose voice lacks sweetness during Gilda's 'innocent stage' but she has the strength to be heard clearly during the important quartet 'bella figlia del amore' which actually serves all the singers well; Alvarez as the Duke is good but I had hoped for more - the power of the voice is there but he just doesn't seem to be on top form - he certainly lacks the clarity of tone that, for example, Domingo has in the Levine/New York Met dvd production.

Still, it is Gavanelli and McVicar's production that are really key to this production and make it an essential purchase. These are two artists that between them produce, I think, a really important updated interpretation of Rigoletto that resonates with meaning in the modern world.
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