“Rigoletto” – the truth about our time

The Sofia Opera on Its Way to Japan.

The Bulgarian Opera Myth.

With the new staging of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, the latest premiere of the National Opera and Ballet for the season that took place on February 18, the theatre will go to Japan. The Japanese audience is already familiar with the art of our first opera theatre from the two guest-performances in 2000 and 2002. Delight and recognition evoked the two titles – a trial even for the best – Puccini’s “Turandot” and Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda”. Ghena Dimitrova, one of the most famous Turandots and Giocondas of the last century, added a special luster to the splendid production of the director Plamen Kartaloff. The ensemble showed a high class that had to compete with the Scala di Milano (on tour before the Bulgarians). In only 2 years the Sofia Opera confirmed the friendship with the Japanese audience with “Don Carlos” and “La bohème” with a star cast again – Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Nikola Ghiuzelev, Tsvetelina Vassileva, etc.

Japanarts Agency this time chose Verdi’s “Otello” and “Rigoletto”. These two masterpieces of the Italian Maestro will enrich the idea of our opera art in the land of the rising sun.

The premiere of “Rigoletto” was under the patronage of H.E. Mr. Koichiro Fukui, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Bulgaria. His Excellency said that he knew Sofia Opera from their visit to Japan. He has not only delighted with the staging, he said the Japanese opera lover eagerly expected the new meeting with the Bulgarian theatre. This year the National Opera will be provided with acoustic equipment under the program of the Japanese government for grants to prestigious institutions in Bulgaria.

One of Verdi’s most loved operas returned to the Sofia stage, created by the artistic imagination of the director Plamen Kartaloff, the scenographer Lyubomir Yordanov, the costume designer Elena Ivanova, under the baton of the conductor-producer Borislav Ivanov. The soloist cast puts on stage recognized names from different generations – Rumen Doikov, Alexandar Krunev, Ana Ivanova, Svetozar Rangelov, Dimitar Stanchev, Elena Chavdarova-Isa, etc.

What is the new reading of “Rigoletto” – the work that since its premiere in 1851 in La Fenice Theatre in Venice has been triumphing all over the world? Verdi was convinced that he would never write anything better. Indeed the arias and the melodies are hits even today. They say he wrote it all in one breath, in only 40 days. Maybe because the drama of Victor Hugo “Le roi s’amuse” (“The King’s Fool”) provoked the dramatic nature of the maestro. It is an answer to the spirit of that time of revolutionary changes in society and human relations. Rigoletto is a collective image of the time. The maestro of the Italian Revolution (as they call Verdi) puts on stage a new character – the ordinary man and his drama. The strong collision of feelings and passions of people from different social strata, of the privileged and of the unprotected ordinary people, gives birth to this musical drama. Maybe this is why “Rigoletto” enters in dialogue with any time.

The director Kartaloff remains true to Verdi but is looking for his own answer to our present day. He stakes on baring the heroes’ characters, he plunges them in an ocean of passion, expressively brings together human dramas in order to alienate them at the finale. Together with the scenographer and the costume designer he puts the viewer in the epoch of the Renaissance but with clear references to the present. The man liberated from the medieval dogmas is obsessed by the passion to live, make love, have fun with no inhibitions. The human emotions and feelings are on show unlike in the Middle Ages.

The curtain lifts on the dances of half-naked nymphs. The contrast between the wild bacchanalia, the dissipated scenes and the drama of the fool and his daughter Gilda build the dynamics of the show. Renaissance columns, a vision of the Louvre, determine the stage space, which the side movable platforms quickly transform from a palace into a home, into a street. Fast changing episodes from different viewpoints “look at” the action with the dynamism of a movie. This play with the space creates a rhythm close to the contemporary people. Yet in the overture we heard and saw the curse of Rigoletto. A huge shadow of the humpbacked fool on the interlude curtain opened the show and closed the curtain at the finale. Rigoletto who plots, sows the infection of lechery, falls victim of his own deeds. He is the chief motor of the action. To amuse himself – this is the meaning of life for the corrupt Duke. Gilda was isolated from the normal world. She means everything to her father, the fool of Mantova. The love for the Duke is fatal for the innocent girl. And her father’s thirst for revenge turns her into a victim. A tragedy close to our time, filled with the cruelty of criminals and assassins, of kidnappings and suffering of innocent people. Orgy and crime, apparent comedy and tragedy, love and revenge get together on the passerelle that every character strides toward his destiny.

The soloists, liberated from the known stereotype, also strove to create the dialogue with our time. Rumen Doikov, who has entered the part of the Duke almost 200 times, as though wanted to play himself, to escape from the cliché. In this escape he sometimes overacted. To play and sing the drama of the fool with the different faces is extremely hard as you have to express it through your voice, too. Alexander Krunev interpreted the dramatic character according to his own vocality and attitude. Ana Ivanova was the romantic Gilda. At the second premiere the young Tsvetelina Maldzhanska disclosed the possibilities of a real vocal and scenic Gilda. The two bassos – the young Svetozar Rangelov (Sparafucile) and the recognized Dimitar Stanchev (Count Monterone) were very convincing in their parts. Maestro Borislav Ivanov skilfully led the musical-scenic dialogue creating with the orchestra the dynamics of the contrast dramaturgy. The whole ensemble of the Sofia Opera and Ballet stepped out of the cliché of static behaviour and achieved the sought dialogue with the modern viewer.


by Magdalena Manolova

Bulgarian Diplomatic Review magazine, Sofia, 3/2005


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