Stephen Costello, Vladimir Stoyanov, Mélissa Petit, Miklós Sebestyén, Katrin Wundsam, Kostas Smoriginas, Wolfgang Stefan Schwaiger; Bregenz Festival Choir; Prague Philharmonic Choir; Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Enrique Mazzola; dir. Philipp Stölzl (Bregenz, 2019)
C Major DVD: 751608; Blu-ray: 751704 154 mins
The stage set is breathtaking. An enormous jester raises its head from Lake Constance, periodically moving, smiling and dozing off as the singers perform around and upon it and are even suspended from its fingers. The Mantua court, in this 2019 production of Rigoletto by Philipp Stölzl for the Bregenz Festival, is a circus, complete with strong-men, unicyclists and burlesque dancers. It makes a change from the usual obligatory Act I orgy.
Rigoletto is styled as a clown, the Duke as a ringmaster who has strayed from the cover of the
Sgt. Pepper album, and Gilda as Disney’s Alice in Wonderland wearing Dorothy’s red slippers. Acrobatic stunts abound; chorus members plunge into the water; ‘Caro nome’ is sung from the lofty vantage point of a hot air balloon. I can guarantee that you will never have witnessed as surreal a ‘La donna è mobile’ (Gilda should have run a mile), nor as wet a storm scene.
All this carnivalesque spectacle comes at a price, however, and that is emotional impact. Stephen Costello as the Duke and Mélissa Petit (a young singer to listen out for) as Gilda are both extremely easy on the ear: well-matched in vocal agility and timbre. Unfortunately, coping with the physical demands of the set rather puts paid to any sort of convincing romantic connection between the two. Vladimir Stoyanov pours heart and soul into the title role, and is rather more affecting, but often seems adrift in a crowd.
In distant shots the singers get lost in the action; in close-ups, the dramatic bubble is burst when you can see microphones and safety harnesses. The busy visuals even distract us from the fine playing of the Vienna Symphony. It was probably dazzling if you were actually there in Bregenz, but on DVD this is a Rigoletto without much of a soul.