Rigoletto at Covent Garden with Keenlyside

When a production of a popular opera has been in the company repertory for a number of years, and has had several revivals designed to show off the talents of major international artists, it tends to lose its originality, and any sharpness it had becomes blunted. Much then depends on whether those artists, through their individual efforts, can turn it into a gripping performance. So it is with David McVicar’s 2001 staging of Rigoletto at Covent Garden. His overall conception is now faint; the court scenes, in particular, have become messy and unconvincing.   Nor was the conducting of Maurizio Benini much help: it was a prosaic reading of the score, too square and lacking in urgency. Fortunately a fine team of singers had been assembled.

Casting the Viennese bass baritone Sebastian Holecek as Monterone may have been somewhat strange, but he gave the role a striking profile. While not entirely projecting the ambiguity in Gilda’s character between innocence and desire, Aleksandra Kurzak sang beautifully. The Duke of Mantua, Saimir Pirgu, has a brilliant tenor voice and in some respects his performance gave pleasure, but there is too much showiness to it and too little subtlety. He has the irritating habit of building up the climax of his arias to milk applause. This was more a tenor winning over his audience than a dramatic portrayal of a callous libertine noble. The superb performance of Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto was exactly the opposite. He has the vocal equipment to excel in this role, but he never allows it to pull you away from the wholeness of the musical and dramatic interpretation.  The character and his predicament is totally internalised. Keenlyside’s own personality is not apparent; simply he is Rigoletto.