Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is based on a gruesome, desperate story where the rich and powerful take advantage of the poor and marginalised, who are punished for their degradation, while the powerful are spared and thrive. Director Mario Martone gives a modern twist to this plot at the Teatro alla Scala, setting the action in contemporary times with the Duke as some sort of powerful libertine, perhaps a politician. His staging opens on a cocaine-fuelled party with scantily dressed young women (Berlusconi’s parties come to mind), while Rigoletto is a drug dealer in a flashy silver jacket, not really one of the “courtiers”, but more like a lowlife who has access to the palace. Margherita Palli's revolving stage turns to show a dilapidated neighbourhood, inhabited by drunkards and drug addicts. 

Rigoletto, Act 1
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

These slums are connected to the elegant Duke’s palace by a door through which the young girls leave the Duke’s orgies and come home to a rough life, crying in each other’s arms. This is also where Rigoletto lives with Gilda, his daughter, and where Sparafucile’s tavern is. The two worlds feed off each other, the powerful exploiting the marginalised who, in turn, live off the crumbs of the palace, selling themselves in various ways. It’s a powerful idea, very well executed, which manages to make the story relevant to our times. A good idea occurs during Monterone’s scene: he is an outcast who (unlike Rigoletto) does not partake in the palace's debauchery. Perhaps a drug addict, he comes to reclaim his daughter, dishonoured by the Duke. After Rigoletto mercilessly mocks him, Monterone curses him for making fun of a father; Rigoletto is horrified (himself having a daughter) and runs to open a closed door, through which we can glimpse a sex dungeon. He grabs Monterone’s daughter, covers her with a robe and leads her into the loving arms of her desperate father.

Piero Pretti (Duke of Mantua)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The true coup de théâtre is at the end: when Rigoletto is crying over his daughter’s dead body, the stage revolves once more to show the Duke’s palace, invaded by the social outcasts, who have murdered everybody. This finale gives a modern audience a great sense of relief – Rigoletto gets his vengeance after all, and the Duke and his courtesans, the real villains, do not get to live happily ever after. However, this ending is in direct contrast with the ethos of Verdi’s dramatic vision, full of pessimism, and centred on the punishment of Rigoletto for deriding Monterone.

Nadine Sierra (Gilda) and Amartuvshin Enkhbat (Rigoletto)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Conductor Michele Gamba gave a very personal reading of the score, with unusual tempi and the elimination of virtually all the “traditional” high notes, most notably the E flat right before “Sì vendetta”, which completely ruins the surprise of modulating from C to A-flat, a pet peeve of mine. He took the slow duets between Rigoletto and Gilda at a very slow tempo (“Veglia o donna” and “Piangi, fanciulla”); the two singers, Amartuvshin Enkhbat and Nadine Sierra, took it in stride, their amazing breath techniques more than up to the task. The resulting legato was heart-melting, perfectly executed. On the other hand, he took very brisk tempi at other points, notably in Rigoletto’s entrance at court in the second act where the fast tempo made him sound very nervous and agitated, very fitting to the mood of the scene. The La Scala orchestra was, as usual, exceptionally good, following Gamba in his bold interpretation, with nuanced dynamics and highlighting of details.

Nadine Sierra (Gilda), Piero Pretti (Duke of Mantua) and Anna Malavasi (Giovanna)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Enkhbat was an outstanding Rigoletto. His voice is extremely well suited to Verdi, strong and powerful, elegant in the phrasing, sweet in the mezza voce. His interpretation was convincing, his grief palpable, and his rage terrifying. His “Cortigiani”, with an almost rushed attack at the end of the previous phrase, shook the theatre. Sierra was a perfect Gilda to this strong Rigoletto, her soprano high and silvery, her dramatic interpretation above and beyond the usual air-headed foolish girl we often see. She managed to convey the innocent naivety of Gilda and still make us understand her love for the Duke, with a sensual touch in her voice in “Caro nome”, at the end of which she sang a perfect, seemingly never-ending trill, for applause which stopped the show. Piero Pretti sang the Duke with an aristocratic, slightly old-fashioned flare in his high tenor, which had some (tiny, occasional) problems in the high register. In the quartet he showed great chemistry with Marina Viotti (Maddalena), who led the ensemble with a warm mezzo, with a great low register.

Amartuvshin Enkhbat (Rigoletto) and Nadine Sierra (Gilda)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Gianluca Buratto was luxury casting as Sparafucile, very effective during his encounter with Rigoletto, and exceptionally good in the Act 3 trio during the storm. Monterone was Fabrizio Beggi, who made an impression with his strong, well supported bass.