Jul 11, 2008

Lehnhoff's take on Rigoletto

I'm still not sure of my overall impression of Lehnhoff's staging of Rigoletto in Dresden. Somewhere in between "I liked it" and "I didn't like it" I suppose.

The ideas for this Regietheater approach on Rigoletto are always interesting - on paper.

The first scene with the animalistic chorus and JDF appearing as a modern Don Juan was totally adequate with the libretto - yet the set was ugly as can be (and an all-black set is rarely a good technical idea, as the lightning of such a set is almost impossible to achieve properly), JDF as a 1980s debaucher (improbable haircut & shirt of the time) was so not credible, and the choreography of the chorus was very disturbing and just too much.
As a result, this first scene was more of a failure - just another example of how good ideas don't always translate well on an operatic stage.

The second setting on the other hand (Gilda's room) was superb, powerful, poetic and fascinating (as her room seemed literally to be a TV screen image coming from the stage - I always have been a big fan of the mise en abyme ideas). The lightning was exquisite as well, with nuances to match the progression of the storyline that were both subtle and amazing.

The first act ends with Rigoletto realizing he's helped kidnap his own daughter and rushing back to her room in despair. Lehnhoff added another great image here, as a metallic grid descended from the ceiling to trap him in this TV-screen set (this is definitely the kind of stuff I love - simple yet powerful).

The second act opened with yet again that ugly all-black marble-like set but this time, the chorus had lost their animal heads and gestures to become a bunch of demons with a latex blue face and little red horns. I make it sound like it was not successful, yet it was - relatively (JDF's costume was once again totally wrong).

The last act set was very simple and once again perfectly complemented the libretto. Lehnhoff broke the horizontal floor by adding some stairs up (to the red box representing Sparafucile's tavern) and down (left, back of the stage) and added smoke on the ground, creating an interesting fuzzy atmosphere.
The figures on the back wall of the set were periodically illuminated to match the musical dramaturgy and I must say the painted characters were a perfect match for the Semperoper's ornamentation (this was the only time, really, that I though to myself it was an advantage to see this staging live - that's not taking into account obviously, the fact that the musical performance is always more interesting live than on TV).

Finally, the little touch about Rigoletto.
I loved the way Lehnhoff added duality to the character, and the way he did it with almost nothing. At the very beginning of the opera, while the orchestra was still playing the overture, Rigoletto appeared on the very front of the stage in a traditional suit and started changing clothes - to put on his jester costume, for his show at the duke's party. Then, at the end of the orgiastic night, he changed again into his civil suit; in the second act, it's obviously jester time again, and the last act was normal life suit again. Very simple, yet very appealing.

All and all, as I said in the beginning of this post, I remain sceptical about Lehnhoff's view - definitely some things to remember but then again, some ugly stuff too.

A video with extracts and a short interview (in German) with Nikolaus Lehnhoff can be seen here.

All pictures © Matthias Creutziger for the Semperoper except for the first one that I took on June 30.

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