Sunday, January 16, 2011

O rabbia! esser buffone!

Unofficial Verdi month is in full swing now: on Saturday night I headed to the Met for another round of Rigoletto.  The Otto Schenk production is still ponderous, and the blocking still static; it's pretty, I suppose, but it does its singers no dramatic favors (acoustic ones, maybe.)  Something to mull: Likely Impossibilities bears tidings that Met's next Rigoletto production will likely be soon, and likely be directed by Luc Bondy.  For this run, there was an updated (1990) choreography in use.  I think Gilda following the Duke out into the street after their scene is new (breaking spatial boundaries and the rules! foreshadowing of doom!)  The courtiers during "Pietà, signori" turn their backs on Rigoletto one by one; I think this is to signify that they cannot hear him unmoved.  Rigoletto actually comes over to Gilda to say "Fa scorrer il pianto sul mio cor"!  Oh, and come to think of it, the libertine Duke's visible libertinism in the first scene might be updated choreography, and not just Joseph Calleja being a more creative actor than his predecessor.  The thing is still creaky, though, if slightly less so. A slideshow of images from the current run, with Calleja's "La donna è mobile," may be found here.

(c) Metropolitan Opera

Fortunately, there was still a Verdi opera to enjoy!  Paolo Arrivabeni conducted again, but the orchestral performance proved much tighter and darker and more exciting than in the September performance I attended.  The pacing was good too, although I thought the orchestra sometimes was kept a tad louder than desirable. I didn't get goosebumps, but the score was given fine dramatic impulsion.  The chorus being their musically excellent selves, the less static blocking helped the palace scenes considerably.  Malcolm MacKenzie stood out as Marullo.  His baritone was pleasant, supple, and expressive, and he acted! Visibly!  Having Marullo conflicted made Rigoletto's plea to him both more logical and more poignant. Kirstin Chávez' Maddalena didn't really impress me; I thought that her voice lacked smoothness, and her performance sensuality.  As Sparafucile, Vitaly Efanov substituted for an indisposed Stefan Kocán.  He was physically and vocally imposing: resonant rather than gravelly, with a complex, burnished tone which kept the role safe from caricature.  The famous low F was long, strong, and steady.

Nino Machaidze has a girlish spontaneity on stage which helped create a sympathetic Gilda.  I thought she used her warm, agile, sweet-toned soprano well, but I remained dry-eyed.  I imagine that continued experience--she has a busy schedule--may bring added dramatic complexity to her interpretation.  She clearly has great joy in what she does, which is always nice to see.  Giovanni Meoni took some time to warm up fully, sounding a bit rough in the first scene.  Once settled in, he used his rich, full sound well for both the character's tender lyricism and furious rage.  He had really lovely chemistry with Machaidze, and their scenes together were standouts.  What I missed was a sense of desperate urgency.  Joseph Calleja seemed to me the most successful communicator of drama and emotion (even feigned emotion!) through the voice.  This was my first time hearing him live and I was hugely impressed: he has a big, bright sound, and also great dynamic control.  It is to his very great credit, I think, that he delivered the cripplingly famous arias which bookend the role with a fine dramatic arc to them.   "Parmi veder le lagrime" was likewise delivered with nuanced phrasing.  Calleja had charismatic energy on stage as well, full of buoyant self-confidence.  Poor Gilda!  Gualtier Maldè was very persuasive indeed.  All in all, an interesting Rigoletto; if I have time between Walküres, I may well try to make it to the two-nights-only special of Luisi conducting Lucic, Damrau, and Filianoti.


  1. don´t you know how serioulsy ill Kocán is ? is he singing on Saturday or probably not?

  2. I don't know, sorry; he's still listed on the Met website for this Tuesday's and Saturday's performances. In view of the fact that there was enough notice for printed slips and placards, I'm not sure I would give him very good odds for Tuesday, but that's pure speculation on my part.

  3. Bondy for Rigoletto, hm. I'm not sure he's the one they should be using to clean out the closets. He has some interesting ideas, but also a tremendous ability to bring out the most cartoonish elements of any opera. Though who knows, maybe with Rigoletto that'll be fun.

  4. That strikes me as a very useful summary of Bondy's style; thanks, S.! The only work of his I've seen live is the current Met Tosca, but while I'm not thrilled about the prospect of a Bondy Rigoletto, I don't have a good enough sense of a range of other directors to say, "Oh, I would have preferred X..."


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