Troubles in Rome
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
On 21 October 2014, before the performance began, the atmosphere was very tense in the foyer of Rome's Opera House. Indeed, a very tense opera was about to start — a new production of Verdi's Rigoletto — with quite a good share of betrayals, murders, corruption, and blood. However, the tension did not relate to the opera but to the theatre's situation. Under the previous management, the Rome Opera House has piled up a huge debt (nearly 35 million euros in the last three financial years alone) and runs a 10 million euro deficit every year. Of a total budget of 56 million euros per annum, staff costs are 40 million euros. On the basis of brand new legislation, Italian Central Government and Rome City Government undertook to save the theatre from going into compulsory liquidation, but they required a business plan which would balance the accounts within a three-year time span. The theatre's unions, especially those of the chorus and of the orchestra, did not take this lightly, and organized a series of wildcat strikes during the summer season. The honorary music director for life, Riccardo Muti, could not face this messy situation any longer and resigned.
The new management prepared the required business plan. Sixty per cent of the employees showed up and overwhelmingly approved the business plan (which entails reduction in staff and out-of-pocket compensations), but most of the chorus and orchestra staff followed some unionists' advise not to turn up at the referendum. A special meeting of the Board followed with the very special and unusual participation of Rome's Mayor and the Minister of Culture. The decision was taken to approve the business plan but to dismiss the 182 members of the chorus and orchestra. Those who intended to continue to work for the opera house could form an association or a cooperative venture which they would run themselves and the theatre would then be able to enter into a contract with the new body ... after auditions.
Before the performance, leaflets were handed out by chorus and orchestra members to the audience. The performance went very well. Both the chorus (directed by Roberto Gabbiani) and the orchestra (under Renato Palumbo's baton) were on top form. After this short account of the still unfolding drama in the theatre, let us come to the new production on stage.
Rigoletto needs no introduction. Recent performances have been reviewed in this magazine (eg 'A Big Splash', 27 February 2013 and 'A Turning Point', 20 August 2013) The new production, signed by Leo Muscato (with sets by Federica Parolini and costumes by Silvia Aymonino) places the action not in Mantua during the Renaissance but in a dark and corrupt small State in Central Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. The very Spartan sets and the lighting recalls early German expressionistic movies of the period around World War I.
Of the three protagonists, only Gilda has a positive look on life, but, as we know, she gets murdered mistakenly by instructions of her own loved and loving father: Ekaterina Sadovnikova has a good voice and an excellent coloratura, especially in the difficult Caro Nome aria.
Rigoletto (an excellent Giovanni Meoni) has a double personality: he can be devious and corrupt (eg with Monterone) but also tender and fragile (with Gilda).
The Duke is presented as a lonesome individual attempting to escape his loneliness with sex and drugs: young Piero Pretti showed a generous volume and a clear timbre in his 'songs' Questa o Quella and La Donna è Mobile, in his aria Ella mi fu Rapita, and his duet with Gilda. In short, this was an extremely bleak expressionist reading.
There was much open stage applause and real ovation at the end, with some minor reservation against Renato Palumbo for the orchestral tint in certain passages.