Recorded in Dresden in 2008, Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production of Rigoletto is a ferocious, if uneven affair, that awkwardly positions the opera between religious drama and psychopathology. Lehnhoff roots the tragedy in the dysfunctional relationship between Rigoletto (Zeljko Lucic) and Gilda (Diana Damrau), rather than in the jester's developing conflict with the Duke (Juan Diego Flórez). Yet he also takes on board a comment in the text that this world is hell: the Duke's cronies don demonic disguises to carry out Gilda's abduction, while her final act of self-sacrifice, played out against a Michelangelesque backdrop of the day of judgment, acquires ambivalently redemptive, Christ-like overtones. Some of this strains against the score, since Damrau and Lucic have to pitch their characterisations as more neurotic – therefore less sympathetic – than the music suggests. But vocally they've rarely been bettered, while Flórez, cast against his squeaky-clean image, is insidiously sensual as the Duke. There's powerhouse conducting from Fabio Luisi, too.
Tim Ashley is a Guardian classical and opera critic, though he's also keen on literature and philosophy so you might sometimes find him cross-referencing all three. His work has also appeared in Literary Review and Opera magazine and he is author of a biography of Richard Strauss