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TESS CREBBIN experiences
Verdi's 'Rigoletto' at the
Immling Summer Music Festival


In his ballad Como somos, the Argentinian folk singer Piero sang the words: 'Todos tenemos parientes, todos por algo lloramos' ('We all have relatives, we all cry for something') and goes on to explain that the tragedy of personal loss escapes none of us, regardless of how hard but futile we may try to hang on to a loved one about to depart this earth, or how much emotion or even money we may have to invest in the undertaking. This circumstance also sets the final scene for Rigoletto, Verdi's seventeenth opera: the court jester Rigoletto, having sent a hired assassin who mistakenly stabs his daughter Gilda instead of the Duke, tries to prevent the mortally wounded girl from dying. This is in vain, of course, and she dies in the end, as so many of Verdi's heroes or heroines eventually do. But before she dies, Gilda talks, or rather sings, to her father, and the intensity of that moment cannot be captured by Verdi's dramatic music alone, nor by the timelessly brilliant libretto of Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876), who wrote the story of Rigoletto after Victor Hugo's play Le Roi s'amuse. It also needs a Gilda capable of displaying the dramatic colors in the final scene, requiring impeccable technique to reach the bottom of her range, as well as a dramatic element in her stage presence that is probably among the most challenging Verdi ever asked of his singers.

Petya Ivanova as Gilda acknowledging her applause at the end of 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2008 Philip Crebbin
Petya Ivanova as Gilda acknowledging her applause at the end of 'Rigoletto'. Photo © 2008 Philip Crebbin

For the opera to really hit home, Gilda needs to be near perfect: in voice, presence, diction, and to catch the right note of tragedy and triumph combined, without overdoing either and thus declining into the pathetic. This, as proved by many Gilda performances which have fallen short of the mark, is all too easy to do. There must be sufficient tragedy in Gilda's death, but even in her dying breaths and notes, Gilda must also display the triumph that she managed to sacrifice herself for her (albeit useless) lover, the Duke, whose life she saves by offering herself instead to the hired killer sent by her father.

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Copyright © 9 July 2008 Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany


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