Jul 2, 2008

Rigoletto in Dresden

Dresden Semperoper
June 30, 2008

N.B. This review only takes into account this performance, not the televised evening on June 21 by Arte.

If it hadn't been for Juan Diego Flórez singing Il Duca di Mantova, I wouldn't have gone to Dresden.
Yet if it hadn't been for Diana Damrau, I would have been quite disappointed by the musical performance (my comments on Lehnhoff's staging are still processing in my brain and will be the subject of another post later on).

First of all, let's face it: Rigoletto being one of my favorite operas, I am very critical about it, especially since a nearly perfect version exists, the one recorded live at La Scala by Riccardo Muti in the mid-1990s and already mentioned several times on this blog (the staging is out of the question, obviously).

And in this constant comparison of mine between any performance and the Muti version, the first thing to completely fall apart was the conduction of Fabio Luisi.
It's not the worse I have ever heard (Kubelik and Giulini put the bar pretty high), but it was uninspired (despite grandiose gestures from Luisi), clumsy at best, sometimes incredibly heavy and slow, and most of the time flat and rough.
On the last part, I can forgive Luisi for making things simple and easy, based on the poor performance of the orchestra. The Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden is obviously not at ease with the Italian repertoire (unless Luisi specifically asked the musicians not to play together, the flute to ruin the whole thing and an unidentified violin to suddenly play a note when nothing was written about it on the score). It was a huge disappointment for me, because I didn't expect the orchestra would be an issue.

The Staatsopernchores also had some major issues: specifically the Italian diction and the unison. Living in a city whose Opera House, if nothing else, has a fantastic chorus I always emphasize, the landing was harsh and unforgiving.

To get over with the bad news, both Sofi Lorentzen (Maddalena) and Matthias Henneberg (Monterone) were weak; the first being inaudible and inexpressive, the later having too weak a technique (but it should be noted the program clearly states he was a late subtitute for scheduled Rainer Büsching).

Stauffenbergall, Dresden
July 1, 2008

As for my dear JDF, I must admit all my love did not prevent a bit of a let down. Of course his voice is gorgeous and all, but the thing I was afraid of turned out to be true; and that is, he is too bad an actor to own a character full of villainy (at least that's how Lehnhoff tried to picture him).
He has neither the facial expressions nor the body language to successfully portray Mantova, and his singing is too bel-cantoish to fully explore the dark side of the character (of course I'm absolutely devastated by this conclusion). But I had prepared myself for that, so the fall is less painful, let's say (see how self-persuasion works?).

The thing I was definitely not expecting was a more technical problem; when JDF arrived on stage (having seen him live already two times this season and numerous others on DVDs and TV broadcasts), I immediately though to myself how tired he looked, hoping this fact would have little impact on his singing. Well, if all the notes were spot on, the tempo was not. On several occasions, there was a noticeable shift with the orchestra (most of the time he was late, as if he had trouble remembering the notes), that was more and more recurrent and culminated in the last act. This reminded me of his run at the Met of La Fille du Régiment when, by the end of the run, this cloud shadowed his performances on one or two occasions. In Dresden, the ones and twos became more like tens and twenties.
So all and all, I must admit I was disappointed by my dearest tenor.

On the other hand, Željko Lučić as Rigoletto was a pleasant surprise. I would have liked his voice to be a bit more expressive, but his stage presence was pretty good and his singing quite memorable (slightly less though than Renato Bruson in the Muti version).

Stauffenbergall, Dresden
July 1, 2008

Undoubtedly the real star of the night was Diana Damrau.
I was sceptical about her acting for about two minutes and then, I was simply blown away by her stage presence. Absolutely blown away.
She owned the stage and the character, with her entire body, with her entire soul. Her eyes were so expressive it was unbelievable, her movements were so fluid and natural, her hands were perfectly complementing the whole body.
The end of Scene 12 (Act I) when she faces Mantova alone was the turning point for me. From that time on, it seemed like she was the only one on the stage.
During the Tempesta scene in Act III (with the wonderful quartet Verdi wrote), which theatrically is one of the biggest challenges of the role (because you have to stand there for an awful long time so it's hard to make it believable), she also was extraordinary and I just couldn't get my eyes off of her.
The last scene, the bag thing was totally surreal (but Lehnhoff is also responsible for that). Instead of the usual girl dying on the floor and whispering the last replicas, she got up, very slowly. At first, I though "Now, what is that?" but then, I was completely fascinated by her portrayal - the image was so reminiscent of Lucia di Lammermoor and so powerful. What a magical way to end the opera...

In other words, she was perfect, nothing less.

Oh, and did I mention her singing was exquisite, too?

YouTube extracts (from the June 21 performance broadcast by Arte):

- "Pari siamo!.....Figlia! Mio padre!", Željko Lučić & Diana Damrau
- "T'amo ripetilo!", JDF & Diana Damrau
- "Addio, addio", Diana Damrau & JDF
- "Caro Nome", Diana Damrau
- "Si, Vendetta", Željko Lučić & Diana Damrau
- Last 10 minutes of the opera, Željko Lučić & Diana Damrau

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