Charles Affron, Mirella Jona Affron: Publications

Friday, January 1, 2021

Rigoletto on Film: II

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During this time of Covid, and with theatres dark all over the world, opera on film remains a particularly welcome alternative to live performance.

In the first installment of our discussion of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s version of Rigoletto ( we looked at the effect of camera movement and editing on his staging  of Verdi’s opera for the screen. Here we turn to the impact of natural and historic architectural environments on the experience of opera on film. Ponnelle’s Rigoletto was sold to the public, at least in part, on the strength of its location shooting. He asked his camera to draw the viewer’s gaze to the magnificent Renaissance structures of Mantua, Parma, and Sabbioneta that house the action. He further surprised the operatic audience with the natural environment chosen for the lyric drama’s final sequence. Rigoletto (Ingvar Wixell) and his dying daughter Gilda (Edita Gruberova) are afloat in a small boat on what we take to be Mantua’s river, the Mincio. Thanks to the artifice of cinematic editing, images of a shimmering river are spliced to an imagined 16th-century Italian cityscape in the background.


For those of our readers who have seen and heard Ponnelle’s Rigoletto (available on Youtube,, his staging will have breathed new life into one of Verdi’s most popular works and, perhaps, more emphatically, into two frequently excerpted arias, “Caro nome” and “La Donna è mobile.” Here are exceptional renditions of these perhaps too often heard chestnuts.

 “Caro nome,” Gilda’s musing on the name of the mysterious youth with whom she has fallen in love, is sung by Mattiwilda Dobbs who made her 1956 Met debut as Gilda following her success at La Scala, Covent Garden, and San Francisco. The first black singer to be cast as a romantic lead on the 39th Street stage, she sang primarily in Europe. In this commercial recording, Dobbs captures her character’s innocence and ardor with warmth and the assured execution of the filigreed ornaments.


Richard Tucker sings the Duke’s “La Donna è mobile (xxWoman is Fickle),” one of the catchiest tunes in all of music. Tucker, whose total of leading tenor Met performances is surpassed only by Giovanni Martinelli and Enrico Caruso, kept the role of the callous young Duke in his repertoire for the whole of his tenure in the company. He captures the libertine's swagger with the energy, spinning tone, and pellucid diction that marked his more than 30-year-long career.



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