Photo: Laurent Guizard
The artistic director of one of the leading theatres in the Paris region recently rejected a proposition, saying that this spectacle was « not for his audience ». So there are different types of audiences being treated to different kinds of show in the land of « Égalité » ? A vast field of reflection opens here, much too vast for these pages: I have been able to see shows in « province » as well as in the « capital » and my admiration for the province theatres is steadily growing, for the quality of their work, done with what little public money the Paris houses leave for them. Recently, the Opéra de Rennes showed a Rigoletto, produced by the Opéra de Monte Carlo, a splendid chiaro-scuro production that wonderfully matches the sombre luminosity of the piece and that is in nothing inferior to the productions one can sometimes see in the great national houses, where a cast of stars gives a technically perfect performance that leaves a bland aftertaste of routine… Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging takes the story back to Verdi’s time, the late 19th century: evening dresses, evening frocks and underwear – harlots are the guests of honour at the Duke’s party – and when Gilda appears disguised as a man at the end of Act 3, she is made up as a mini-portrait of Verdi, complete with evening dress and top hat. Marianne Lambert plays this Gilda, with a remarkable soprano, sweet and fresh, all girlish innocence. « Bravo » means valiant in Italian, and she deserves all her bravos for her performance, the opera director having announced before the curtains-up that she was ill and could only just sing: nobody would have known ! Gilda is one part of an emotional triskell, the centre of which is love, or what Gilda, her father Rigoletto and the Duke are taking for love. Rigoletto is this really tragic character, who causes the tragedy to happen even through his trying to avoid it. Victor Torres, baritone, with his perfect voice perfectly mastered for this small house, and a commanding stage presence to boot, is totally aware of this. He is a powerful Rigoletto, authoritarian in his tenderness with Gilda, bitingly ironic with the courtesans, unmovable on his path to destiny. Luciano Botelho, tenor, is the promiscuous Duke of Mantua to whom love means physical possession and nothing else. Unfortunately, the weeks of rehearsals and representations are beginning to show (we are at the dernière after all) and there is a bit of uneasiness in the high notes. However, they do not denote the charm of his voice and the interpretation of his character. The bass-baritone Anatoli Sivko is a cold and menacingly growling Sparafucile, and mezzo-soprano Laura Brioli plays an assertive and lively Maddalena. Rudy Sabounghy signs the simple and terribly effective stage design, as well as the costumes: in front of a simple wall of wooden panels, we find a few armchairs and a folding screen – the Duke’s palais. In the second act, the same wooden panels form Rigoletto’s house and the terrace on the roof. Next to the house, we see a city skyline, tiled roofs, an open steeple, probably Mantua. A cloudy sky enhances with very effective lighting and changing colours what the music is saying. Bravo to the light artist Laurent Castaingt! The same sky is covering the background of the stage in the third act and will play its part in the dramatic storm that is about to break out. Sparafucile’s hut is made of vertical bamboo branches. Through the intersections, the inner rooms of the house are visible. It is sitting on a pontoon, the stage floor is covered in something looking like water: everything is happening now on this pontoon and the almost physical presence of the river underlines effectively the unavoidability of what is going to happen. This magnificent stage design is a work of art in its own right, which prepares us subtly from curtain-up on for drama on its way. Sascha Götzel conducts the Orchestre Symphonique de Rennes with energy and finesse, and the Choir of the Opéra de Rennes, conducted as usual by Gildas Pungier, is excellent as usual, precise and profound. A wonderful evening in Rennes, bravo everyone!