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Rigoletto Giuseppe Verdi Directed by Yuri Ljubimov Maggio Musicale (Florence) Glenn Loney Socialist Realism is all very well, but it can lead to productions which stifle the imagination, limiting the potential of the work being interpreted. Russia's Yuri Ljubimov is a director who apparently refuses to surrender his textual insights and dramatic fantasy to the dominant socialist stageidiom . During his tenure at the Taganka Theatre, he fascinated his more alert countrymen-as well as admiring visitors from abroad-with innovative productions which either found new values in established works or explored new or neglected texts with startling originality. Whether his celebrity was a problem for the Russian authorities, or merely his consistent avant-garde approaches, he was scolded and then discharged from Taganka. Since then, he has been living and working abroad, notable in Britain and now in Italy. The announcement that he had been engaged to stage Verdi's opera Rigoletto for Florence's annual festival, the Maggio Musicale, thus excited immediate interst, especially because he was relatively new to the world of opera and to Verdi. What would he do that could match his Master and Margarita, Crime and Punishment, or Ten Days That Shook the World? What Yuri Ljubimov tried to do with-or to-Rigoletto turned into a theatrescandal the like of which hadn't been seen in Florence for ages, possibly not since Verdi's Macbeth premiered in 1847 at that city's Teatro alla Pergola. If Macbeth was initially not well received, that was as nothing to the hullabaloo preceding the Rigoletto opening and the production's subsequent premiere-which was something of an anti-climax. About a week before the premiere, the contracted Rigoletto, Piero Capuccilli, who had only just arrived for rehearsals-although Ljubimov had alread been at work with the cast-suddenly announced to the press that he wouldn't appear in the production. He disclosed some of the aspects of Ljubimov's staging which he considered untrue to Verdi, effectively robbing the premiere of the element of visual surprise. The big surprise-and relief-for the management and the Maggio's ticketholders was that Rigoletto was able to open on schedule, with a new baritone and a new conductor, the third one in a row. Cappuccilli had complained that Ljubimov expected him to dress and walk like Charlie Chaplin, creating a Rigoletto with greater meaning for modern audiences. He also objected to the decision to have Gilda, Rigoletto's virginal daughter, sing the beloved aria, "Caro nome," while aloft in a garden-swing. Other visual and interpretational assaults on Verdi's opera were hinted at. Ljubimov, 75 marcliori who had refused to give interviews before the opening, finally had to defend his vision in a press-conference. He had not, it seemed, intended that his Rigoletto would impersonate Chaplin, only that he might suggest the tragic quality of the Little Tramp, sporting a bowler and cane. As for Gilda in the swing, for Ljubimov the swing symbolized the heroine's girlish innocence, in love as she is, with a womanizing duke-whom the hunchbacked Rigoletto serves as jester-known to Gilda only as a poor student who adores her. There were also angry charges that Ljubimov and his designer, Stefanos Lazaridis, had peopled the stage with dummies representing such powerfigures as Hitler and Mao. The pre-premiere polemics may have raised audience expectations-partly that there might be no premiere, since Ljubimov offered to leave the production-but they also managed to disclose too much about it, while at the same time distorting the director's intentions. The audience was greeted by an open proscenium, effectively a black box, in which a raked stage, a spiral stair, and a kind of catwalk, arching from down stage right to down stage left, were the spatial elements. Both the stage and the walkway were thronged with many mannikins, dressed in a range of costumes which spanned whole eras and hierarchies of socioeconomic life. Ljubimov had earlier been forced to reveal his intent to stage Rigoletto as an opera in which Verdi was showing how the powerful impose on the weak. Surrounding the enactment of the tragedy of Rigoletto and 76 Gilda...


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pp. 75-77
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