Verdi's passion brought to life

<img class="imgr" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-422.jpg">[b]International team of directors premiere new version of Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi, at Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus[/b]<br />The vibrant, festive and moving Italian opera is a wonderful addition to the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theatre. Verdi's ingenious creation encourages our hearts to beat in time with the score, bringing alive our sense of human spirit.  The day before the premiere, at a press conference hosted on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre, the directors answered questions from the media. The choice of venue was inspired, allowing us to gain a sense of the theatrical. It’s quite different to sit on the stage than in the audience!
International team of directors premiere new version of Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi, at Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus

The vibrant, festive and moving Italian opera is a wonderful addition to the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theatre. Verdi`s ingenious creation encourages our hearts to beat in time with the score, bringing alive our sense of human spirit. The day before the premiere, at a press conference hosted on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre, the directors answered questions from the media. The choice of venue was inspired, allowing us to gain a sense of the theatrical. It’s quite different to sit on the stage than in the audience!
A strange energy pulsates when the stage is empty, creating a mystic aura. I’ve often asked actors among my friends why this might be and they reply that the stage preserves the breath of the world in which past characters have existed. The stage has its own power, as was certainly felt during the press conference for Rigoletto. It almost seemed as if the air were still vibrating from the voices of the powerful baritones, basses, tenors and sopranos. Eduard Martynyuk, Vladimir Petrov and Diana Trifonova, occupied in rehearsals that day, joined us, in costume. We also had the chance to see the mechanism of the rotating stage circle, which allows rapid scene changes and promotes continuity of action.
Anna Kontekh, an experienced art director from the Finnish National Opera, has created original sets and costumes for over 100 operas, ballets and theatrical performances, often working with Neeme Kuningas, the producer of our new staging of Rigoletto. This is Anna’s first time working on Verdi’s Italian masterpiece, but the third for Neeme Kuningas. The latter is one of the most well-known Estonian directors, having staged over 100 musicals, operettas and operas – across Russia, China and Europe: Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Finland and Turkey.
Much has been said about how the new version of Rigoletto in Belarus differs from previous performances by Kuningas. Viktor Ploskina, the conductor, asserts his confidence that audiences will love the staging as much as the actors enjoy taking part. Their enthusiasm, and that of the directors, is obvious – as are the high spirits of all involved. Mr. Jaak Lensment, the Ambassador of Estonia to Belarus, has predicted that Rigoletto will be a great success, thanks to Neeme Kuningas’ genius. He expects it to have a long run and experience acclaim.

Reasons for successful destiny
Neeme’s staging is distinguished by conceptual accuracy and wonderful aesthetic appeal; he has an innate sense of how to portray an historic performance. Rigoletto has timeless and universal relevance, exploring the feelings of heroes and their motivations in particular situations. Their conflicts are recognisable and topical. Viktor Ploskina notes, “Rigoletto is an opera about higher justice, and taking responsibility for your actions. It’s easy to recognise yourself because the plot is sincere and complex. After all, little has changed regarding our thirsty ambition, intrigue, irresponsibility, tears, love and hatred and jealousy. We all know how passions change destinies and, at times, lead to tragedy. Today’s world boasts enough people with persecution complexes. The main hero, like the other characters, is perceived as being ‘out of joint with time’.”
Kuningas asserts that his vision for Verdi’s protagonist is the same as in the original: Rigoletto is no freak of nature or cripple; he is simply a court jester for the duke, who carries out his role ‘to the letter’. On returning home, he throws off his hated mask and becomes a devoted and extremely protective father to his daughter. We cannot help but pity him and feel compassion – even when he plans his revenge on the duke for seducing his daughter. Tragically, she falls victim to this revenge, being killed by her father’s hired killer.
Honoured Artiste of Belarus Vladimir Gromov plays Rigoletto. His dramatic, deep baritone and magnificent acting talent portrays the suffering in his soul with great expression. Even the strongest voice has good and bad days, regardless of fame or success. On the day I heard him, he was on top form.
Rigoletto, which is being staged for the sixth time at the theatre, is full of passion and tears. Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, played by Diana Trifonova, falls in love with the Duke, played by Eduard Martynyuk while People`s Artiste of Belarus Vasily Kovalchuk plays the role of Count Monterone. Oksana Yakushevich plays Maddalena, the sister of killer Sparafucile, performed by Oleg Melnikov, an Honoured Artiste of Belarus. Yakushevich and Martynyuk both hold Frantsisk Skorina honourable state awards.
Martynyuk’s Duke of Mantua appears as a happy minion of fortune – who enjoys life to the full with little thought for the consequences of his actions. His tenor is fresh and pure, rolling easily through the music and flying across the auditorium. His scenes early in the performance and when declaring love for Gilda are among the opera’s most well-known. His aria about a beautiful woman’s heart being inclined to fickleness always raises great applause. Diana Trifonova’s soprano has a light and soft timbre, capturing the high notes with tenderness, and the lower notes with drama: such as when Gilda sees the real face of her thoughtless duke, yet still chooses to save him from her father’s revenge. Although she does not hit every note accurately, her stage presence is remarkable: vocally and artistically.
The men`s chorus – the retinue of the Duke of Mantua and the court’s nobility – sung in harmony, with great emotion, reflecting the moods and desires of the Duke, and illustrating the turns of the plot. Nina Lomanovich, the chorus master-director, has worked on the majority of operas staged at the Bolshoi Theatre.
I have no doubt that the second and third casts of leading soloists for Rigoletto will be just as impressive: Vladimir Petrov and Sergey Frankovsky (both People’s Artistes of Belarus); Oksana Volkova (an Honoured Artiste of Belarus) and Tatiana Gavrilova (a laureate of international contests). Everyone gives their all, maintaining the high reputation of the Bolshoi Theatre. Neeme Kuningas admits to having found a common language with the actors, based on humour, friendship and a positive attitude.
Surprisingly, the performance opens without an overture. Rather, we enter straight into the action: taking place in a mirrored hall in the Duke of Mantua`s palace, sparkling with candelabra. In fact, the mirrors aid the strength of the acoustics, giving a clean sound, which transports easily through the auditorium. A podium is located in the centre, lit by floodlights installed on the balconies. The lighting effects are well thought-out, used to accentuate the drama played out on stage – such as Rigoletto’s plan of revenge. The stage’s rotating circle also works perfectly: silently, so that it does not distract from the music or action. So engrossed did I become in the opera that I quite forgot to take notes for my write-up. What better sign can there be: when a journalist forgets their profession and becomes simply an empathic spectator. Rigoletto is powerful enough to work such magic.
I send my thanks to everyone who worked upon this masterpiece.

By Valentina Zhdanovich

Notes:
Neeme Kuningas: ‘We live in difficult times for opera. The world economic crisis has closed some theatres and reduced the number of new performances. Opera is a wonderful platform for directors to explore their imagination and to experiment. It is also a place of tradition. While visual tricks can be a great novelty, they aren’t really necessary. Opera is a living art, universally relevant and with enduring appeal, since it always strikes a chord, regardless of the passing of time. We are observing a certain Renaissance, with audiences keen to empathise with the heroes of opera’.

Viktor Ploskina: ‘Rigoletto is a brilliant opera, opening new facets of the beautiful. Its performance is a great honour and pleasure - for every conductor’.
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