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Posts Tagged ‘Verdi’s Rigoletto’

The second item in the Teatro alla Scala’s Japanese tour is Verdi’s Rigoletto – the name of Joseph Calleja making it enticing enough for those who were not eager to see Gilbert Deflo’s museological production (seen on DVD with Roberto Alagna, Renato Bruson and Riccardo Muti). Alas, Calleja cancelled and the old, old production with ballet dancers making cute steps during the orgy in the palace of the Duke of Mantua remains. Actually, calling this Deflo’s production is not really fair, for very little of his direction has survived. For instance: although this evening’s prima donna has sung this production in Milan, she seemed entirely clueless of what she should do on stage. “No rehearsal since 2010” was an idea that did cross my mind. At least, she tried to do something. The tenor just stood there and delivered – and the baritone seemed bothered by having to do the whole Rigoletto-routine…

In any case, the name of Gustavo Dudamel could be considered starry enough to “sell” this performance. I had seen him only once before – a Don Giovanni at La Scala that left a lot to be desired. But that was long ago – and the Venezuelan maestro is now an experienced opera conductor. Even if this evening was hardly unforgettable, the maestro must be praised for his untiring intent of making something out of it. He refused to surrender to band-like vulgarity, never ceased to look for dramatic meaning in every note in the score and (except for a brassy Gilda/Maddalena/Sparafucile scene) succeeded in doing this rather from musicianship than from bravado. For instance, this evening’s Cortiggiani, vil razza was exemplary in clarity, purpose, style… and thrill. If it did not work better, this was because Dudamel was considerate enough to a baritone who could not keep up with it. From this point of view, it was quite fascinating to observe how he tried to impose discipline but respected his soloists’ (many) limitations. It is always refreshing to hear a conductor who is not playing for his own ideals, but instead is dealing with the means at his disposal. Maestro and orchestra deserve the warm applause they received this evening. I am afraid I cannot include the chorus there – their “wind” effect in act III was poorly judged and unconvincing. In any case, I can only imagine what Dudamel would have done with the proper cast for this opera.

Elena Mosuc is a resourceful singer who produces many beautiful sounds, but this evening she was clearly not in her best voice and her heart was probably somewhere else. She was often tremulous and her breath was particularly short:  Caro Nome – in spite of beautiful in alts and perfect trills (no mean accomplishment, one must concede her that) – had many unwritten pauses and Tutte le feste was quite gusty and insincere, but her dying scene was surprisingly touching. On the other hand, Francesco Demuro’s tenor is firm, bright and strongly supported through long phrases on the breath. His voice is a bit on the small size for the role, has many nasal patches and the style can be kitschy now and then. Also, he did not seem really at ease playing the alpha-male role. I have seen Giorgio Gagnidze’s Rigoletto at the Met and found it bland in a role where blandness is a no-go. His singing this evening could be described the same way. Finally, Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s dark and voluminous bass is the right instrument for Sparafucile.

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Michael Mayer’s “rat pack” new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto for the Met could be seen on the telecast, but it won’t be very difficult to summarize it for those (like me) who did not go to a movie theatre: the action is set in the 1960’s in Las Vegas. The rest is pretty conventional. I cannot say that the updating has brought any special insight into any character or the plot itself. I don’t mean that the idea is not good a priori – those were days when casino big shots acted as if they were beyond the grip of law and a story more or less like that could have actually happened. But you have to add at least some psychology into the proceedings, because this is how people try to understand situations since good old Siegmund Freud spoke of id, ego and superego. When I was leaving the theatre, I overheard someone saying “What was that guy shouting ‘the curse!!!’ in the end? That was ludicrous!”. Well, not for Rigoletto – but there is a serious point here – what kind of person in 1960 would shout “The curse!” over his dead daughter’s body? And if there is an opera with plenty of Freudian elements, this is definitely Rigoletto – there is a father/daughter situation to start with. This is an opera in which the soprano has a nameless father and sings her big aria about how she loves her sweetheart’s NAME as soon as he invents one for himself (actually, he has no name either in this story).

There is a problem about the staging itself too. Many productions of Rigoletto turn around the opening scene, when the audience is supposed to see something spectacular. The problem is that the action develops in other directions after that – we have dark streets, the garden of a modest house, an antechamber in a palace and a tavern. But all this generally has to be adapted to cope with the opening scene. So you end up with an impressive set for a largely atmospheric scene, while the plot has to evolve in make-do sceneries. Here for instance. The curtains open for a complex, beautiful casino hall, but later you have to believe that: a) Rigoletto decides to hide her daughter in the very place where he wants her NOT to be seen (i.e., the casino); b) Rigoletto negotiates Sparafucile’s services in front of a barman; c) Gilda trills in the end of Caro Nome 20 cm away from a bunch of guys with masks who are ready to kidnap her; d) Rigoletto and Gilda are supposed to be alone for her to tell that she was deflowered (let’s use this word) by the Duke shortly before that, but here everybody just turn their backs to her and now she feels comfortable to explain all this to her father; e) the Duke almost bumps into Gilda and Rigoletto when he enters Sparafucile’s house; f) there is a huge storm outside, but Maddalena just goes out in her baby-doll and dressing gown to help hiding Gilda’s body and comes back free from the action of the elements. I may sound picky here, but again: those are basic elements of a staging.  You cannot place a wall on stage and expect the audience to pretend that sometimes it is not really a wall.

The musical aspect of the evening showed far more care. Marco Armiliato knows Verdian style and the importance of respecting propulsive rhythms, of orchestral effects and of a brighter, more flexible orchestral sound. He cared for his singers, helping them at key moments, but did not allow them to impair rhythmic coherence for narcissistic vocal displays.

Lisette Oropesa’s soprano is on the light side for Gilda. In act I, her gleaming high notes, seamless legato and sensitivity helped her to portray beauty, youth and loveliness most adeptly. In Caro nome, she displayed impressive technical abandon and musicianship. In the remaining acts, she did retain these qualities, but did not find enough leeway in Tutte le feste, for instance.

Vittorio Grigolo is a convincing, Italianate Duke, but his phrasing may be emphatic and his high notes a bit tense. George Gagnidze’s grainy baritone lacks punch in his high notes and he himself is a bit generic about interpretation. Enrico Giuseppe Iori’s bass is dark and spacious enough for Sparafucile,but Nancy Fabiola Herrera had some problem with following the beat in the quartet. Finally, I have always understood that the choristers should sing the “wind effect” in act III bocca chiusa. It did not sound like that this evening.

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David McVicar’s 2002 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto was premiered and has been revived with starred casts, such as the one featured on DVD. The staging is about a revolving set that suggests rather the Bronx than Mantua, while failing to portray the Duke’s palace, Rigoletto’s house and Sparafucile’s lair. It works better framed by the cameras. It has called some attention by the somewhat graphic orgy in the opening scene, but the only shocking thing about it is the way it interferes with synchrony in ensembles.

This is my first time in an amphitheatre seat; I cannot tell therefore if what I heard was only the effect of the hall’s acoustics: voices sounded unnaturally loud as if they were miked and the orchestra seemed brassy, recessed and dry. The fact that John Eliot Gardiner was the conductor was the main source of interest this evening to me, but under these circumstances it is hard to say much. I had the impression that the conductor wanted a lean orchestral sound, clear articulation and propulsive, agile tempi. If this was indeed the case, it proved to be an a priori approach: the house orchestra is no Vienna Philharmonic and failed to fill the auditorium and his leading soprano and tenor struggled with the maestro’s fondness for a tempo phrasing. Lucy Crowe at least has an excuse – this is her first Gilda and a replacement for Ekaterina Siurina.

I confess that I was at first disappointed to learn that I would miss the lovely Russian soprano, but retrospectively this proved to be quite rewarding. Crowe does not have an Italianate voice, lacking brightness above all; however, her lyric soprano is developing into something really interesting – the tone is rich, the low register is solid, the volume is quite generous for her Fach and she can yet trill and produce high mezza voce. Sometimes one feels an irregular support, what brings about grey-toned patches, unfocused notes and some tension. One tends to forget all this, given her musicianship, good taste and commitment. That said, what I could “read” in her singing this evening is an eventual shift into a Countess/Fiordiligi and maybe, who knows?, Agathe/Arabella in a couple of years, if she does not get carried away with the prospects and burn herself out before that.

I must confess as well that I was hoping to see Francesco Meli as the Duke, since Vittorio Grigolo’s Alfredo in the Deutsche Oper Traviata last year gave me mixed feelings. Well, I am glad I could see him in a role – and I don’t mean this as a compliment –  closer to his personality. Although this tenor gave many examples of his skill this evening – mezza voce, tone coloring, clear divisions, firm high notes – these things seemed less related to the demands prescribed by Verdi than by his whimsical intent of making an impression. The fact is that he is unacceptably free with note values, making Gardiner’s life very difficult and putting his debuting Gilda in a very dangerous situation in their duet, when nobody got an entrance rightly.

I had never heard the name of Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias before, but I will hardly forget it now. It is a very powerful voice, hard-edged in a Gobbi-esque manner, the kind that seems almost even more exciting when on its limits. Although he is not an electrifying stage presence, his singing is always gripping in its raw energy and vivid declaratory phrasing. It is curious that, in a cast where the high voices were very economical with optional high notes, the baritone seemed eager to take every one available, most excitingly in the closing scene.

Christine Rice was a fruity, strong Maddalena and Matthew Rose a firm, dark-toned Sparafucile.

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