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July 14, 2011

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 ...

Zubin Mehta conducting the RAI National Symphony Orchestra from a remote location, the score is quite well served. Whether it all adds up to the most musically compelling "Rigoletto" is beside the point, really. This is, from every angle, an unusually beautiful presentation of a great Verdi opera.

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.

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


Will it be possible to get this on a DVD ?

I haven't seen it on sale yet, but I am sure it will be out on DVD before too long. TIM

I'm a very new opera fan and I'd heard the wonderful e Donna Mobile before mentioned but never knew a thing about this opera until today. I just watched the above 3 act play and and I couldn't help but cry at the end when Rigoletto was cradling his daughter. Fabulous. I loved the actor that played the Duke and the setting was eye-popping.

I am desperately looking to buy a DVD of this beautiful performance,but cannot find it.
Can anybody give me a clue?

I would have expected it to be released in time for holiday sales. I am sure it will turn up eventually. TS

Is there a dvd of the pbs domingo performance of rigoletto sung in Mantua in july 2011?

I haven't seen any release yet, but I am sure it will appear eventually. TS

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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