Federico Longhi (Rigoletto) & Hyojong Kim (Duca di Mantova) (Foto © Reinhard Winkler)

Rigoletto, opera by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’Amuse. First performance at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on 11 March 1851. Premiere by the Landestheater in the Musiktheater in Linz op 4th November 2017.

Il Duca di Mantova: Hyojong Kim / Jacques le Roux
Rigoletto: Federico Longhi
Gilda: Julia Sitkovetsky
Sparafucile: Dominik Nekel
Maddalena: Jessica Eccleston
Giovanna: Vaida Raginskytė
Monterone: Nikolai Galkin

Conductor: Martin Braun
Staging: Andreas Baesler


Bravos for the singers, several boos for the production team – this was the end of the premiere of Rigoletto at the “Musiktheater” in Linz/Upper Austria, on November 4th, 2017.

Stage director Andreas Baesler decided to transfer the plot to New York. The Duke of Mantua is unmistakably.… Donald Trump. The palace is the Trump Tower, while Sparafucile’s home is apparently from the 1950ies/1960ies/1970ies. How inventive!

But before we get there, we see Rigoletto appearing in front of a make-up mirror, sitting down and putting an artificial hump, clown make-up and wig on. Are we going to see Pagliacci? No – because it’s the only time that he looks (vaguely) like Rigoletto. After the ballroom scene, he appears only in a suit and in a coat.

In the ballroom (?) a clownish beauty competition is going on in the middle of the stage, which takes the attention away from the audience – away from the singers. What follows is a somewhat weird mixture of symbols, wishy-washy insinuations, coarse references, clichés and kitsch. The chorus has a “Joker” (figure from the Batman films) make-up. Why? We would have known about their evilness even without that ridiculous make-up – and without their Ku Klux Klan costumes in the abduction scene. In the final scene, they all have golden masks. Why? Maybe it should show that wealth and power mask reality. Ok, so be it. But hey – it’s Rigoletto. Or at least it should be …


Defloration, the love baby of Regietheater

Pink teddy bears (cliché, anyone?) in her room represent Gilda’s naïve innocence … she gives one of them to the Duke. Her “Caro nome” is accompanied by white balloons (kitsch, anyone?), which suddenly fall from the ceiling into her room. Ok, so be it. But do we really need to see a huge blood stain from her defloration on her white shirt/dress later (disgust, anyone?)?

Sparafucile’s (a repairman, btw, who offers Rigoletto a cordless electric drill as a lethal weapon) home is a sort of beer bar with cinema seats (from the 1950ies? In Trump’s times?), and one can watch a porn film on a sixties TV-set – apparently, live films of Maddalena’s “adventures” in the bedroom. In the middle of the room, there is a gutted, rusty car with a seventies clavilux on top, in which Maddalena disappears with the Duke later. The clavilux is lit, when the Duke sings his “La donna e mobile” later – with a microphone, imitating Elvis probably? Oh Lord!

All I can say: Povero Rigoletto, povero Verdi! Clearly, several people in the audience felt the same, when they booed the production team at the curtain call.


Excellent cast

But let’s focus on the singing, which was far better than the staging. Baesler’s intention was to present the Duke, and not Rigoletto, as the main figure of the opera.

The Duke was Hyojong Kim, a finalist of Plácido Domingo’s international Operalia competition, ironically an Asian face with a Trump wig. His voice has a beautiful timbre, and he seems to reach with ease every note he wants to hit. He effortlessly fills the house of 1200 seats, and – actingwise – he also portrays the character fine. However, sometimes I missed some lyric touch, and colouring, and modelling of his otherwise really fine voice, which made him a bit one-dimensional.

Rigoletto was the Italian baritone Federico Longhi. At the beginning I found his big voice more barking “Sprechgesang”, but later on I enjoyed his weighty interpretation. He is no Leo Nucci, of course, but made a very impressive Rigoletto who touched me especially in the “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata”. His portrayal was very moving until the heartbreaking final “Ah, la maledizione”.

Gilda, young London-born Julia Sitkovetsky, is a very fine lyric soprano. Her acting and her singing totally convinced me. She mastered the high notes – especially in “Caro nome” – with such purity and clearness that it was a joy to listen to it. Elegant coloraturas and cadenzas paired with an acting talent, a real delight. Deserved “bravas” rewarded her for her performance.

Also Sparafucile, Dominik Nekel, gave a very good performance. His big, sonorous, dark voice had the needed evil sparks in it. Equal was his “sister” Maddalena, Jessica Eccleston, who especially convinced with her looks, but also with flawless singing. Another one to mention: In the small role of Monterone, Nikolai Galkin made a deep impression with a beautiful, rich and powerful voice.

All other minor roles and the chorus did very fine jobs, especially the chorus deserves extra kudos.

Martin Braun conducted the very professional sounding Bruckner Orchestra Linz,  lively but conventional. In a few bars, the orchestra and singers fell a bit out of sync. However, all in all a very good performance of orchestra and conductor.

Rigoletto in Linz urgently needs a concert performance.

Further performances until 20/3/2018.

Gabi Eder (Published on 5/11/2017)

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