Monday, April 30, 2012

Middle Period Masterpiece

If Benjamin Britten had lived in the nineteenth century he would have had to spend time battling with censors. Can you imagine them passing The Turn of the Screw, Billy Budd or Glorian? After the French Revolution the Ruling Classes were twitchy about any words on stage about disaffection of clergy or monarchs. At one point Bellini had to change his title because Norma could be inferred to be an ecumenical office. In 1832 Victor Hugo's play Le Roi s'amuss was taken off before its second night and not seen on stage for another fifty years. But it was published which is how Verdi saw it and realised, correctly that it was perfect for an opera. "The greatest drama of modern times. Triboulet (the original name for Rigolette) is creation worthy of Shakespeare's". A battle commenced with the local Venetian censors which was won after changing the name, place and epoch. Piave's libretto, master-minded by the composer, is of its time, but can only be criticized on the grounds that Rigolette's nastiness is not anything like fully shown. The master-stroke is the famous quartet, with the four characters each projecting different sentiments in different music, something Hugo cannot do in his play, something that he envied the composer for. And, not content with the vocal parts, Verdi throws in a clanging bell and a raging storm. Rigolette was given in the Royal Opera House on 30th March, the first of a run of a revival of Donald McVicar's decade-old production, it’s the one with two ugly sets, a castle on the skew-whiff a Gilda's cage-like pad. The hero of the evening was the conductor John Eliot Gardine, gunpowder tense, full value to the lyrical parts and complete command of chorus and orchestra, both on top form. The three principals were less than wonderful but more than competent. Vittarie Gringlo was a suitable brash Count, a singing Errol Flynn-type, any amount of confidence but lacking in bel canto. Dimitri Plantanias had a sure command of the notes in all registers, acted well, pleased the groundlings and only lacked that extra depth of character that would make one forget Tite Bobbi. Gilda (Ekateri Siurina) likewise had many good points just lacking that star quality that would put her into the bracket of stalls that cost two hundred pounds a time. Verdi and Gardiner made the evening memorable no wonder the composer know he had hit gold.

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