Verdi - Rigoletto

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday May 18 2014

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Production: Robert Carsen, reprised by Gayral Christophe. Sets: Radu Boruzescu. Costumes: Miruna Boruzescu. Lighting: Robert Carsen, Peter Van Praet. Il Duca di Mantova: Arturo Chacón-Cruz. Rigoletto: Dimitri Platanias. Gilda: Simona Šaturová. Sparafucile: Ain Anger. Maddalena: Sara Fulgoni. Giovanna: Carole Wilson. Il Conte di Monterone: Carlo Cigni. Marullo: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Matteo Borsa: Roberto Covatta. Il Conte di Ceprano: Laurent Kubla. La Contessa di Ceprano: Yvette Bonner. Usciere di Corte: Gerard Lavalle. Orchestra and men's chorus of La Monnaie. 

Robert Carsen’s production of Rigoletto has been around before arriving in Brussels, so it will be familiar to many. I’d seen parts of it on TV myself. It sets the work in a wine-dark circus ring, and once you’ve said that the concept is fairly easy to imagine.

In the Brussels context, the start seemed unpromisingly déjà vu. Not Carsen’s fault, but last season’s Lucrezia Borgia was actually staged at the Cirque Royal, and already contained déjà vu elements of its own, La Monnaie having gone through a run of sleazy productions. At the time, I wrote: ‘No doubt coincidentally, but still […] this production had much in common with the previous two in Brussels […] similar acts of gratuitous sadism on naked girls in a corrupt, criminal, nouveau-riche milieu […] The bored, idle, yobbish rich, all in black […] dinner jackets with open-necked shirts…’

This Rigoletto opens with the bored, idle, yobbish rich, all in black, seated in the circus watching a lion tamer cracking his whip at near-naked girls and Rigoletto – a clown, of course, in capacious black with touches of white - capering round obscenely with a hideous inflatable doll. Later, the Duke strips off before climbing a ladder to join the captive Gilda in the box over the entrance to the ring, and the doll gets a second outing, but apart from that the shrug-inducing shenanigans die out and give way to a soberer, more straightforward working through of the circus theme, albeit minus the gaudy colours of the usual circus, with acrobats in black among the dinner jackets, Gilda rising high-up seated on a trapeze, and at the end a stunning coup de theatre as a naked female silk-acrobat (so I believe they're called) cascades down in a flash in a sash and ends suspended, with a jolt, dead.

This isn’t Carsen’s best production, but works well enough. On Sunday, however, it seemed to me to lack dramatic commitment and impact. Was he in Brussels to oversee this reprise? Probably not, as one Gayral Christophe is credited with it.

The cast, despite cancellations and replacements, was typical Brussels: strong but no outright stars. Arturo Chacón-Cruz is a very decent mid-weight young tenor with a nice presence and bright, accurate top notes (I was surprised to see those being targeted for criticism in reviews of earlier performances) but a rather monochrome medium. Dimitri Platanias was powerful and clear but not always reassuringly secure - which could also be said of the diabolical-looking Ain Anger's cavernous, booming voice. Simona Šaturová's is sweet in the middle with a touch of Slav steel at the top but, to me, short on drama. My companions thought she warmed up in part two. Sara Fulgoni was not a great Maddalena.

I realised, thinking up this report, that I simply don't remember anything about the orchestra and conducting. Perhaps that's a compliment to Carlo Rizzi. What did strike me, though, was that Rigoletto, much as I like Verdi, does nothing for me at all.

Izzy sings "La donna è mobile".

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