Monday, 24 October 2016

Deutsche Oper Berlin: Rigoletto

Rigoletto at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Bettina Stöß)
I’ve seen a few strange Rigolettos in my time, including one where the drama was, for no reason I could detect, set in the Wild West. Jan Bosse’s 2013 Deutsche Oper staging sets it in the Deutsche Oper itself, and I even – in a slightly befuddled state – found myself getting confused as I walked into the auditorium to my seat and saw an audience sitting where I used to seeing the stage.

A few rows of chairs, framed in the same wood finish as the auditorium, were filled with a restless ‘audience’ chatting. A disco ball – a portent of the dubious taste to come – dangled ominously overhead. 

Before the Prelude, the floor of the pit was raised up to bring the orchestra into view (it sank back down after the first scene). 

During the prelude, a glittery bunny-rabbit appeared, later revealed as Rigoletto himself, who underneath was dressed in a onesie with joker-like motifs in glittery gold. Monterone stepped out of the audience (the real one) with a daughter in tow; the Duke – dressed, with his entourage, in an array of ghastly suits and shirts – came in through the auditorium.

Rigoletto at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Bettina Stöß)
For Rigoletto’s house, a few rows of chairs rose up to reveal a warren-like dwelling beneath, around which Gilda was forced to clamber awkwardly – why that scene should make concessions to being set in something like a the designated physical environment while the others weren’t wasn’t clear.

I suppose the whole production’s aim was largely to point the spotlight back on us, to finger us as complicit in the sort of society that’s being depicted on stage – that’s what these sorts of productions are usually about. And that’s fine. But the knock-on effect, inevitably, is that if it’s about us, then it’s rarely also about them, the characters.

Ripping the drama out of its own environment and placing it in a meta-theatrical world, you deny Rigoletto, Gilda & Co their raisons d’être. It’s an obvious consequence, but surely was instrumental in making it difficult to be drawn into, say, Rigoletto’s great ‘Cortigiani’ scene here, despite the best efforts of Markus Brück in the role – a Deutsche Oper stalwart who brings a real intensity to the music, even if his smooth baritone frays a little at the top and can’t quite spin the legato line you ideally want in the role.

Only at the end, when the stage was emptied after what, admittedly, was an effective staging of the storm (with the ‘woo-woo-woo-ing’ chorus a threatening hoodied mob), were we allowed to concentrate on Gilda and Rigoletto as characters. Their final duet was moving, with Siobhan Stagg’s Gilda really opening up vocally as well as emotionally.

There were some fine other performances, too: from Yosep Kang, phrasing elegantly and displaying exactly the right weight of voice for the Duke; and from Ievgen Orlov as an implacable Sparafucile. In the smaller roles, Judit Kutasi stood out for some properly fruity contralto notes as Maddalena (and, to a lesser extent, Giovanna), while Thomas Lehman also made a strong impression as Marullo. Diego Matheuz’s conducting was very decent, a few routine moments notwithstanding.

The production itself is one to tick off, though, rather than rush to revisit.   

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