None of this would work without a game cast, and the Met was blessed with a terrific trio of singers who contributed one of the company's best nights in recent memory. Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic cut an expressive figure filled with pathos as Rigoletto, rich and full voiced in his duets with his daughter Gilda and blood curdling as he addressed the entourage in "Corteggiani." (Unfortunately, Mayer didn't give him quite enough work with to support his concept of the jester as a "Don Rickles"-type comedian.)
German soprano Diana Damrau was sensational as Gilda, in turns naïve and earnest, with an exquisite voice that glittered from top to bottom. Her "Caro nome" was a model of its kind. She earned extra points for allowing herself to be dumped in the trunk of the Cadillac in Act III, before making a remarkably healthy return for her final duet with Rigoletto. A heart-throb from beginning to end, Polish tenor Piotr Beczala had all the charisma (and cruelty) this concept demands and easily tossed off all the high notes in some of the opera's most famous music, "La donna e mobile" and "Bella figlia dell'amore."
Bass Stefan Kocan, as Sparafucile, was dutifully creepy and had all the low notes to strike terror in anyone's heart. The only disappointment was mezzo Oxana Volkova, whose voice was simply not big enough for the house. This was a serious problem in Act III's "Bella figlia" ensemble, which is usually one of the highlights of the opera, but when the mezzo's voice kept disappearing under the orchestration there was a three-sided quartet.
Michele Mariotti led a taut performance from the Met's orchestra, keeping the antics on stage in sharp focus and supporting the singers admirably in the complex ensembles.
All in all, it was a wonderful evening. Yes, there are things in the production that don't work quite logically--can it be possible that Gilda doesn't recognize the Duke, a famous Vegas headliner, even if he's not wearing his tuxedo?--but it is nonetheless fun to watch and a joy to hear. And, besides, doesn't Verdi frequently beg audiences to check their sense of logic at the door and just listen to the glorious music?
Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein. |