Coro E Orchestra del La Scala cond. Tullio Serafin (EMI 1955)
Rigoletto: Tito Gobbi
The Duke: Giuseppe di Stefano
Gilda: Maria Callas
The same cast that nailed Tosca two years before does a fabulous job with Rigoletto. Callas soars to the top deck, and Gobbi snarls depravedly as her father. Di Stefano is a scheming, smarmy Duke, even though the voice was beginning its decline.
Coro E Orchestra del La Scala cond. Rafael Kubelik (DG, 1961)
Rigoletto: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
The Duke: Carlo Bergonzi
Gilda: Renata Scotto
Kubelik conducts an intelligent reading of the score featuring Fischer-Dieskau as the hunchbacked jester. The German lieder specialist acquits himself well in Italian. Carlo Bergonzi is a fabulous, virile Duke, well matched with the young Renata Scotto.
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1971)
Rigoletto: Sherril Milnes
The Duke: Luciano Pavarotti
Gilda: Joan Sutherland
This is the recording I cut my teeth on as a young man. Luciano is at the peak of his form in one of his best roles: the Duke you can't resist. He makes "Quest'o quella" sound like a reasonable philosophy. Milnes is a tragic torn jester and Sutherland is a pretty, if mature Gilda. Best of all, Martti Talvela as the knife-wielding Sparafucile.
Vienna Philharmonic cond. Carlo Maria Giulini (DG, 1980)
Rigoletto: Piero Cappuccili
The Duke: Placído Domingo
Gilda: Ileana Cotrubas
Giulini's methodical approach to the score is not loved by everybody, but the man conducted a fine Rigoletto. Domingo makes a rare foray into bad-guy territory here, reaching to the very top of his voice and virility. The great Piero Cappuccilli is the thinking man's Rigoletto: equal parts monster and caring father in the title role.
Roma Orchestra di Santa Cecilia cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli (Philips/Decca, 1984)
Rigoletto: Renato Bruson
The Duke: Neil Shicoff
Gilda: Edita Gruberova
For some bizarre reason, the late Giuseppe Sinopoli eliminated the "extra" high notes that thrill lovers of Rigoletto. His version is a bizarre, Shakespearean drama through a cracked looking glass. Renato Bruson is a towering hunchback, well matched with Gruberova, who also filmed the role of Gilda with Pavarotti a few years before.