« »

2014, ROH London, Rigoletto


simon rigoletto roh

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Venue and Dates:

ROH Covent Garden 12,15,20(mat 12:30h),23,27 and 30 September
3 and 6 October

Conductor: Maurizio Benini (except 6 Oct) / Paul Griffiths (6 Oct)
Director: David McVicar
Designer: Michael Vale
Costumes: Tanya McCallin
Lighting Designer:  Paule Constable


Rigoletto: Simon Keenlyside
Gilda: Aleksandra Kurzak
The Duke of Mantua: Saimir Pirgu
Monterone: Sebastian Holecek
Sparafucile: Brindley Sherratt
Maddalena: Justina Gringyte
Giovanna: Elizabeth Sikora
Marullo: Duncan Rock
Borsa:Luis Gomes
Il Conte di Ceprano: Jihoon Kim
La Contessa di Ceprano: Kiandra Howarth

ROH page: Your reaction: Rigoletto 2014

Photo Gallery

 Sound bites

Mark Valencia, Whatsonstage.com, 13.9.14

3 stars

” … As for Simon Keenlyside in the title role, his delivery lacked Verdian coloration – how I longed for an Italianate mezza voce – and there was an edge of gravel to his tone. All of these fine singers came good in act three – a big relief and enough, I hope, to hearten anyone with tickets to see Rigoletto later in its run when the nerve gremlins will probably have settled down. …The ensembles were fine, but whenever things got lyrical the conductor became intractable. Kursak and Keenlyside in particular fought against his lethargic tempos throughout their father-daughter duet in act one and, crucially, in their dramatic final farewell.”

Mark Pullinger; Bachtrack.com, 13.9.14

2 stars

” A prelude that was pedestrian rather than portentous signalled Maurizio Benini’s approach to Rigoletto: Verdi as aural Ovaltine, tucked up in cosy dressing gown and slippers. … Simon Keenlyside has a great many qualities: an intelligent Lieder singer, an intensely powerful Wozzeck and a stylish Mozartean, he takes tremendous care over diction and imaginative phrasing. Alas, I find him almost completely unsuited to Verdi. The more declamatory role of Macbeth has been his most convincing foray into this repertoire so far, but Rigoletto requires a bigger, juicier baritone with enough richness and seamless legato to sail through Verdi’s long phrases. There is a case for a Lieder approach to the role – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, for example – but not one which convinces me, I’m afraid. Where Keenlyside does convince is through his acting, from the anguish of a father desperate to locate his abducted daughter to the barely contained, child-like glee at receiving the corpse from Sparafucile. … Benini’s slow tempi, however, caused her several problems, most noticeably in the father-daughter duet of Act I, where she and Keenlyside had to break up their phrasing to take additional unmusical breaths….”

Tully Potter, classicalsource.com, 13.9.14

” … Simon Keenlyside brings his portrayal of the title role to this house for the first time, having already sung it in Vienna and Cardiff. It would grace any stage in the world. He has a magnificent voice and it seems to get more Italianate, and further inside the Verdi style, with every role he undertakes. He varies his dynamics with great skill and sensitivity and gets the noble side of the character exactly right. About the bite and sarcasm of the jester, I am less sure, and a purely technical aspect of his singing – which, I hasten to say, he shares with virtually every modern Rigoletto – is a little disappointing. Here I must take issue with Susan Rutherford’s statement, in her interesting programme article, that “Rigoletto … has a mode of singing that is predominantly parlante”. There is a major element of bel canto in the role; and baritones of a bygone age, such as Antonio Scotti and Pasquale Amato, used to sing the legato passages of the duets between Rigoletto and Gilda with a cantabile thread of tone almost like a cello. Well, even without that propensity, the duets in this revival have great power and intensity. …”

David Gutman, The Stage, 15.9.14

” … This is the seventh revival of a staging that threatens to become as much of a fixture as was Jonathan Miller’s English National Opera production. David McVicar’s conception is famously tougher, and in Simon Keenlyside, singing Rigoletto for the first time at Covent Garden following an acclaimed Welsh National Opera run in 2010, revival director Leah Hausman has a protagonist quite unlike the old-school Italians usually associated with the role. Keenlyside’s voice is in fine fettle, once past an underpowered first act, and his physical volatility chimes perfectly with the production’s edgy look and feel. … Perhaps it was always going to be Keenlyside’s night. … Verdict: Idiomatic or not, Keenlyside gives it his all and Kurzak shines in a patchy revival.”

Steve Silverman, Opera Britannia, 15.9.14

” …It’s the visceral nature of Verdi’s writing for his baritones, the volcanic eruptions of rage or grief over an orchestra going at full throttle, that tends to find the lyric baritones wanting, and it was in this department that Simon Keenlyside – making his house debut as the eponymous jester in this revival of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto – was most severely challenged. Lacking the weight and raw power to ride the most brutal of the orchestra’s outbursts, Keenlyside seemed diminished at some of the big pivotal moments. The opening tirade against the Duke’s courtiers in the jester’s great Act II aria, ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ lacked impact, and the conclusion of the same act’s duet with Gilda was a palpable struggle. Moreover, he was clearly wrestling with some vocal difficulties for most of the evening. A catch in the passaggio (the part of the voice where the transition from middle to top occurs) constantly threatened to become a crack – and indeed a couple of high-lying passages did come to grief. On several occasions, he was clearly taxed by the span of Verdi’s phrases, to the extent of having to take a breath mid-word. At the conclusion of his elemental Act II duet with Gilda, he tried to take the unwritten high A flat, didn’t quite make it, and abruptly stopped singing. (To be fair, the conductor has to accept some responsibility here – see the penultimate paragraph.) It was unclear whether these problems were due to indisposition (no announcement was made) or to the murderous demands of the role on a voice not ideally suited to it.One of the obligations of reviewing a performance is to point things like this out. Now that it has been done, the best course of action would be to park those caveats at the back of your mind and forget about them, because Keenlyside’s is a masterful assumption of the role. If anything, the vocal glitches add further depth to the jester’s rawness and vulnerability. Leaving aside the relatively few passages that demand sheer power, this was a masterclass in beauty of tone, line, attention to language and characterisation – a masterclass that only an accomplished performer of art song could have delivered. The strikingly wide palette of vocal colours at his disposal, and his inventive and insightful use of the text were a world away from the usual stock snarls, sobs and howls employed by many Rigolettos. Furthermore, Keenlyside is, of course, a very fine actor – one who uses his physicality to tremendous effect. He gave us a jester far less aged and grizzled than usual, one who, despite his disabilities, is – with the aid of his assymetrical sticks – capable of athleticism. Broad histrionics are eschewed and, in their place, subtle gestures and movements assume great significance: the repulsive aspect of his character exposed by the sadistic way he spits on Monterone’s freshly defiled daughter; his remorse for his past behavior intertwined with his fears for his daughter, all communicated by a hand extended in sympathy towards one of the Duke’s latest female victims as he searches the palace for Gilda; his uncontainable delight at finally having the Duke’s dead body (or so he thinks) at his feet, conveyed by a child-like ungainly jig. This may not be a jester that will please traditionalists of a certain age, but for dramatic truth it will be hard to beat. …”

Michael Church, The independent, 15.9.14

4 stars

” … Simon Keenlyside is not completely easy with his character’s physicality, but he sings with great warmth and authority.”

Richard Fairman, FT.com, 15.9.14

4 stars

(No copying, not even parts of article are allowed)

Colin Clarke,Seenandheard-international.com,15.9.14

“It is worthwhile stating at the outset that this particular evening’s Rigoletto belonged to two gentlemen: the expert conducting of the experienced Maurizio Benini and the singing and acting of Simon Keenlyside in the title role. … Given that the entire opera is enveloped in this near-darkness, it was entirely fitting that Benini’s conducting was impeccably consist, and that Keenlyside’s assumption found such power here. Keenlyside’s shading of phrases and diction gave great joy, as did his liquid legato; his projection of emotion (particularly distress, as in Gilda’s disappearance in the second act) brought us right into the tragedy. This is Keenlyside’s first Rigoletto for the Royal Opera and one fervently hopes it is not his last (he has in fact sung it in major venues elsewhere, including the Vienna State Opera). …”

Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 16.9.14

” … There is powerful chemistry between Simon Keenlyside and Aleksandra Kurzak, though the opera’s dramatic and musical climaxes are not always in sympathy. …  The Royal Opera’s latest revival of David McVicar’s production of Rigoletto primarily forms a vehicle for Simon Keenlyside, who plays Verdi’s tragic jester in a startling performance that is as much about physicality as it is about singing. Whirling around on crutches in the opening scene, he reminds us of Antony Sher’s Richard III. His gestures are obscene, and few Rigolettos have quite so forcefully brought home the fact that the loathing with which he satirises the Mantuan court is genuine rather than assumed. Face to face, however, with Aleksandra Kurzak’s Gilda, he (as he tells us), “turns into another man”. His stoop is such that he is forced to gaze upwards into her face in their duets, and he does so with the sad wonder of a man whose much-loved daughter is a constant reminder of the dead wife he adored.

Much of this is immensely powerful, yet there are also some minor vocal inequalities. Some people will prefer a fuller tone in Verdi. On occasion, Keenlyside sings off the words rather than the line, which can fracture in the process. It is emblematic of his performance as a whole that he sings Cortigiani crawling across the floor in abject humiliation after Duncan Rock’s brutal Marullo has snatched away his sticks; the scene is harrowing to watch, but you’re also aware that Keenlyside’s voice doesn’t quite ride the orchestral climaxes as it ideally should. He’s not always helped by what is going on round him. …”

William Hartston, express.co.uk, 16.9.14

4 stars

“SIMON KEENLYSIDE gives a superb performance in the title role of the hunchbacked jester at the corrupt court of the Duke of Mantua. … Two performances in particular lift the current revival to glorious heights. The British baritone Simon Keenlyside is quite superb in the title role, adding a gravelly tone to his usual immaculate voice to bring an earthy grittiness to the part that fits the troubled nature of Rigoletto excellently. With Tanya McCallin’s costume forcing Rigoletto into an even more hunched posture than usual, supported on two sticks, Keenlyside gives a fine acting performance as the physically and emotionally crippled comic.  … Between the anguished Rigoletto and the dastardly Duke, the part of Gilda can all too easily seem that of a hapless victim. Kurzak turned her into a real star and her duets with Keenlyside were a real delight…. Five stars for the singers, three stars for the conducting, but still a production well wporth seeing for Keenlyside and Kurzak.”

Sam Smith, MusicOMH, 16.9.14

3 stars

“…Simon Keenlyside is splendid in the title role. In the perennial debate over whether Rigoletto is master of his own destiny or victim of a cruel society, Keenlyside’s portrayal tends towards the latter interpretation as he comes across as both human and humane. I was struck by just how little this Rigoletto wears his jester’s hat. He only does so at all in the court scenes, and even then he removes it to plead for his daughter’s return as if saying the time for joking is over. Keenlyside asserts with his strong baritone instrument, but on opening night many of his phrases in the upper register were shaky and underpowered. He may simply have been having an off night, and if so he did very well to pace himself as his performance in Act III was exceptional. …There is much to enjoy in this well-established production of Rigoletto and while on opening night there were just a few too many flaws, the likelihood is that these will be eliminated, meaning that the remainder of the run could prove very strong indeed.”

” … The reason to go is Simon Keenlyside, singing the title role for the first time at the Royal Opera. Still where others flail, agile where some might stagger, Keenlyside can act anyone else off the stage. For once you sympathise with Hugo’s hunchback. …”

Mark Ronan, markronan.com, 9-14

” … In the end the tragedy stems from Rigoletto’s fatal flaw of insisting on personal vengeance, and Simon Keenlyside’s voice amply showed the lyrical softer side of this absurd jester, who can behave so badly in the gratuitously orgiastic first scene, only to be knocked over in Act II by the excellently assertive Marullo of Duncan Rock. Wonderful acting from Keenlyside, yet without the jester’s cap his youthful looks belie the Act II plea to the courtiers to restore to an old man his daughter (Al vegliardo la figlia ridate).

Wonderful singing all round. Keenlyside and Kurzak were glorious in the father-daughter duets, and a welcome contrast to the ugly court scenes was Austrian bass-baritone Sebastian Holecek, who made a hugely commanding Count Monterone. …”

Nights at The Garden blog, 21.9.2014

” … Ah yes,  Perhaps I’d better admit that besides my abiding love for Verdi, the main reason for booking this opera is that I was intrigued to see and hear how one of my favorite baritones would fare in this most taxing of Verdi baritone roles. This was a house role debut for Simon so I’m guessing a lot of the critics and regular audience were also wondering how he would fare.  Despite dark rumblings after the first night performance, I found his performance mesmerising and in the end deeply touching.  Vocally he may not command the typical Verdian heft but I found nothing wanting in the overall tone and technical accomplishment.  He managed the transitions from snarling, cynical jester at the Duke’s court, to loving, over-protective Father in his duets with Gilda magnificently.  Physically too he gives it his all, staggering, crawling and generally heaving himself around on two sticks as the situation demands – I have no idea how you actually sing while doing that!  Rigoletto is one of the few operas where I don’t actually cry at the end – not sure sure.   But on this occasion there was a definite lump in the throat.  Just superb. …”

Anthony Ogus, http://anthonyogus.co.uk,2.10.14

” … The superb performance of Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto was exactly the opposite. He has the vocal equipment to excel in this role, but he never allows it to pull you away from the wholeness of the musical and dramatic interpretation. The character and his predicament is totally internalised. Keenlyside’s own personality is not apparent; simply he is Rigoletto. “

Andrew Porter, Opera magazine, November 2014

” … Keenlyside,  a lyric baritone of uncommon merit, has taken up the three big roles that Verdi composed for Felice Varesi: Macbeth,  Rigoletto and (a part Varesi didn’t care for) Germont.  He has sung Rigoletto for WNO in its modern-dress version set in the Oval Office,  and in Vienna. I was eager to hear him;  and the Covent Garden performance was marked by his wonted intelligence. The phrases were intently shaped, he made much of the words, and his  acting was poignant as he hobbled through the strumming courtiers,  supported on two sticks. There was much to admire.  But, to put it bluntly, he hardly displayed a ‘Rigoletto voice’. The ferocious outbursts lacked heft and power.  Once or twice, as he strained to beef up the sounds, the word ‘coarse’ – previously unthinkable in connection with so fine-grained a singer – even came to mind. …”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gudrun September 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Lots of wonderful Rigoletto photos on Simon’s ROH page: http://www.roh.org.uk/people/simon-keenlyside

Leave a Comment