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Friday, October 15, 2010

Opera Review: Rigoletto Gets a Face-Lift

George Gagnidze as Rigoletto.
Photo © The Metropolitan Opera
This season, the Metropolitan Opera's 20-year-old production (originally created for Luciano Pavarotti) got new sets for the Duke's palace. OK. They weren't new. In fact, they look like they were recycled from another opera at the last minute. But more importantly, some new vocal talent took the stage alongside George Gagnidze's reliable Rigoletto.

Francesco Meli made the Duke the unequivocal star of the show. Although his blooming column of a voice narrowed perceptibly at the top, Mr. Meli has a pleasing tenor and the sexual charisma needed to make the Duke a compelling figure. Although his "Questa o quella" was marred by that narrowing of his voice, it was the Act II monologue, "Ella mi fu rapita!" that floored the audience and brought down the house. Just for a second, you were on the Duke's side. And that is the secret of a great Rigoletto, making the audience itself culpable in the tragedy that follows.


Mr. Gagnidze made a menacing Rigoletto, a thuggish accomplice to the Duke's adventures. "Para siamo" was chilling, free of the over-used device of stage whispers. In his scenes with Gilda, the hulking jester turned into the warm, caring parent, though still slightly menacing to his daughter. When he sang "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata", he spat it at the audience, effectively accusing us of being somehow 'in' on the kidnapping of his daughter. His final series of transformatons: from avenging wouldbe assassin to grief-stricken wreck were accomplished with astonishing fluidity.

Christine Schäfer is a fine vocal actress, and last year she made a strong impression as Sophie in the revival of Der Rosenkavalier. However, she lacks the ideal sweet tone and fearless agility above the stave that makes the aria "Caro nome" a show-stopper. She sounded tentative reaching up for the highest notes. However, her slight physique and acting skills led to a strong sense of the father-daughter bond between herself and Rigoletto, and her death scene was movingly sung.

Finally, mention must be made of the fine Italian bass Allesandro Silvestrelli as Sparafucile. Not only did he make the most of his Act I duet with Rigoletto, holding the final low note in truly impressive fashion, but this rich, dark bass came into his own in the third act. The trio "Ah, pìu non ragiono," combined Mr. Silvistrelli and Ms. Schäfer with mezzo Nino Surguladze (as Maddalena) to create a tempest of sound equivalent to the storm generated by the Met Orchestra under the baton of Paolo Arrivabeni.
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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.