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Monday, May 24, 2010

Got Hunch? A Buyer's Guide to Rigoletto


Script for a Jester's Tear: Tito Gobbi as Rigoletto

Rigoletto is the opera that cemented Verdi's reputation as a master of Italian opera, and the first of his "big three" with Il Trovatore and La Traviata immediately following. There are some great recordings in the catalogue, most of them from the middle of the last century. Here's a quick guide to getting the most court jester for your money.

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.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.