Pierre Cavassilas specialises in filming operas live in authentic locations. The technique, as I understand it, involves hidden camera, mikes, earpieces and television monitors so that the performers can sing live while following the beat of a conductor and orchestra hidden away somewhere in the basement. I thought this worked well for the 2000 film of La Traviata but I was less convinced by this new film using authentic locations in Mantua.
I almost begin to understand the reasoning behind some of the bizarre modern-dress versions of Rigoletto that we are used to seeing. Setting the opera in Mantua does tend to make it look like a museum piece. Worse, it is a Disneyfied museum piece since the director chooses to imbue every scene with a golden light.
The USP of this approach is that the singers are really singing. Their lips are synchronised with the sound and we even see them spraying each other with spittle as they sing during a romantic clinch. The singing still strikes me as phony though since it is sotto voce into a microphone making Rigoletto seem more like a musical than an opera. Also the ambiance of the music is often mismatched to the room that it is supposed to be sung in.
The big draw of this production is Placido Domingo having one of his first outings with his new low voice. I have to say he makes a surprisingly ordinary baritone. Yuliya Novikova and Vittorio Grigolo as Gilda and the Duke seem to have small but pleasing voices but it would probably be unfair to judge any of the vocal performances given the circumstances of the production.
I felt strangely detached from this production which is perhaps why I mused on the plot more than I would normally. Cavassilas certainly brings out the brutality and hypocrisy of the Mantuan court. The only character with a modicum of honour is Ruggero Raimondo's Sparafucile who is horrified by his daughter's suggestion that, having accepted money to kill the Duke, he should not go through with the deed.
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