Sumptuous 'Rigoletto' from Mantua with Domingo in title role airs on PBS
The novelty factor of Placido Domingo's singing "Rigoletto" for the first time -- the baritone title role, that is -- makes watching the PBS special airing Friday night on WMPT-Ch. 22/67 a must-see.
(It's also scheduled, oddly in the middle of the night, on WETA-Ch. 26, at 12:30 a.m. Sunday.)
Never mind that the eminent tenor doesn't always seem all that comfortable in the lower range (I think he sounded more persuasive vocally when he tackled the role of Simon Boccanegra). Domingo's Rigoletto is still a fascinating portrayal by a great and brave vocal artist, one of the most accomplished in the history of opera.
The visual quality of this film, shot on the locations of the opera's actual setting and at the time of day indicated in the libretto, is a big attraction in its own right, quite the feast for the eyes. Produced by Andrea Andermann, who first revealed a flair for on-location opera with his filmed "Tosca" in 1992, and directed by Marco Bellocchio, this is very much a cinematic "Rigoletto."
The immediacy of a stage performance is lost, of course, but the cast seems energized by the surroundings. They aren't just having a romp through pretty, historic surroundings; genuine characterizations are revealed.
And, with ...
Domingo, with his weathered looks and communicative eyes, brings out Rigoletto's pride, fear and hatred as tellingly as the jester's sustaining love for his daughter, Gilda.
Despite some patchy tones, he infuses phrases with considerable passion and eloquence -- as the supreme Verdian tenor of our age, Domingo easily transfers that intuitive style to this unexpected assignment.
(I was surprised, though, that Domingo didn't add the high note some baritones go for at the end of the opera. Perhaps he didn't want to remind everyone that he is, at heart, still a tenor.)
Julia Novikova looks and sings quite fetchingly as Gilda. Her final duet with Domingo is one the production's most memorable scenes. Vittorio Grigolo exudes sensuality as the wanton Duke. He is especially impressive at the start of the marvelous Act 3 quartet, spinning the phrases with a good deal of color. Veteran bass Ruggero Raimondi sounds a bit worn as Sparafucile, but he's still an authoritative presence.
All in all, this "Rigoletto" exudes atmosphere, making the story seem remarkably real and involving, and serves up the music with a great deal of good old-fashioned heart.PHOTOS COURTESY OF CRISTIANO GIGLIOLI/RADA FILM