Ensemble

Once Upon a Time in Mantua

GIUSEPPE PENNISI was at the re-opening
of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
for Verdi's 'Rigoletto'

 

Rome's Teatro dell'Opera is the first opera house in Europe to reopen its doors with a summer season that includes three operas, a new ballet and two concerts between mid-July and early August. The new production of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi with Daniele Gatti conducting and direction by Damiano Michieletto was conceived for an anti-COVID-19 situation. It inaugurated the Summer Season 2020 of the Rome Opera House on 16 July with a stage designed for the vast space of the Circus Maximus, one of the most spectacular places ever made by man. The new 1,500 square metre stage is designed and built in full compliance with the anti-COVID-19 standards. I was (with my wife) part of an audience of a thousand and four hundred in a setting that for rock concerts and political gatherings hosts some hundred thousand people. In the audience, there were the Head of State, the Speakers of the House and of the Senate, the Minister of Culture, the Mayor of Rome and a dozen ambassadors. It was broadcast live on national television - briefly, it was a major event. There will be two additional performances only. A documentary film will follow.

This Rigoletto is a new production of Teatro dell'Opera in collaboration with Indigo Film for the visual part. Dark tragedy of passion, betrayal and revenge, Rigoletto is centered on the dramatic figure of the hunchbacked court buffoon. The opera is a deep study of man. The question of deformity binds inextricably to guilt, referring to the thousand-year-old contrast between ugliness as disharmony and moral disproportion opposite to the ideal of physical perfection as symmetrical concurrence with a natural order. Rigoletto is crippled, and at that time having a malformation meant to be marked from birth by faults that the parents had committed; Rigoletto carries faults not his own. The real curse is to become a killer.

In Michieletto's vision, Verdi's drama, set in an imaginary criminal world, becomes a cinematic tale with an extraordinary narrative rhythm. There is always a mixture of realism and dreamlike vision. It is underlined also by the videos in which we see dreams, memories of the past; these dreams and memories reveal passages of tenderness, melancholy and sweetness.

Changing period happens quite often when staging Rigoletto. In 2018, Teatro dell'Opera opened its season with a production of Rigoletto set during Fascism's limelight. (I reviewed this in Music & Vision as Rigoletto and the Fascists on 4 December 2018.) In 2014 stage director Leo Muscato set Rigoletto in some unspecified principality in a Northern European country. At the Metropolitan House, for years, the plot evolved in a gambling casino operated by the Mafia. On the huge stage and on a huge screen showing details of the action, the plot develops like in some recent dark gangster movies such as Once Upon a Time in America and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

A scene from Verdi's 'Rigoletto' staged in Rome's Circus Maximus. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama
A scene from Verdi's 'Rigoletto' staged in Rome's Circus Maximus. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama

The Duke of Mantua's Court is a world of criminals, killers, drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps. Even Gilda lost her innocence well before the opera starts, but she longs to gain a new one with true love.

Rosa Feola as Gilda in Opera di Roma's 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama
Rosa Feola as Gilda in Opera di Roma's 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama

The staging features scenes by Paolo Fantin, costumes by Carla Teti, choreographic movements by Chiara Vecchi and lightng by Alessandro Carletti. The acting is excellent. This is, no doubt, one of the most elaborate and most effective productions of the Michieletto creative team since The Greek Passion by Bohuslav Martinů in Palermo in 2011. (I reviewed this as Christ Recrucified in Music & Vision 3 May 2011.)

In this Once Upon a Time in Mantua, in the role of the court buffoon is Roberto Frontali, already conducted by Daniele Gatti in the same part in the inauguration of the 2018-19 season in the late Fascist Rigoletto.

Roberto Frontali in the title role of Verdi's 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama
Roberto Frontali in the title role of Verdi's 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama

On the vast stage are Ivan Ayon Rivas as the Duke of Mantua, Rosa Feola as Gilda, Riccardo Zanellato as Sparafucile, Martina Belli as Maddalena, Gabriele Sagona as the Count of Monterone, Alessio Verna as Marullo, Pietro Picone as Matteo Borsa and Matteo Ferrara as the Count of Ceprano.

From left to right: Martina Belli as Maddalena, Ivan Ayon Rivas as the Duke and Riccardo Zanellato as Sparafucile in Verdi's 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama
From left to right: Martina Belli as Maddalena, Ivan Ayon Rivas as the Duke and Riccardo Zanellato as Sparafucile in Verdi's 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2020 Yasuko Kageyama

Irida Dragoti, one of the young talents selected for the second edition of Rome Opera's 'Fabbrica' Young Artist Program, plays the role of Giovanna. The chorus is directed by Roberto Gabbiani. To enforce social distancing, the chorus members are on the two sides of the large orchestra pit; on stage, they are replaced by extras and mimes.

Necessarily, the sound is amplified but nonetheless, orchestra, singers and chorus render quite well. In the pit, Daniele Gatti emphasized the tragic, almost Shakespearian aspects of the opera, with accents on rhythm and fast tempos. Roberto Frontali is a well-known Rigoletto to Rome's audience; he stressed the sorrowful aspects of the character. He received open stage applause in the two major arias of the second act: Cortigiani Vil Razza Dannata and Vendetta, Tremenda Vendetta. Rosa Feola was enchanting and her coloratura was perfect; she had open stage accolades after the impervious Caro Nome in the first act. Ivan Ayon Rivas is a young Peruvian lyric tenor who has sung the Duke of Mantua role in several theatres, including Rome's Teatro dell'Opera. He grew into the part during the performance to be perfect in the fourth act quartet, All the others were very good.

In short, this was a great success.

Copyright © 18 July 2020 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy

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