Rigoletto, New York

Each melody is lovely
in itself (except, perhaps, for the court dances of the first scene, which are
supposed to seem shallow in any case, and do), but more important each one
fulfills its dramatic moment and enhances our understanding of the character
who sings it. The dramatic movement is steady and inexorable—and
pitiless. Step by step, each important element of the drama takes place before
our eyes—nothing is concealed except the Duke’s rape of Gilda, and
in some modern stagings we even get to watch that. But the current Met
production, thank heavens, designed by Otto Schenk and somewhat vulgarly
directed by Gregory Keller, happily spares us that particular debauch. It is a
handsome, old-fashioned job, with fine architectural elements and a street in
medieval Mantua that, damn it, looks like a street in medieval Mantua. The
costumes are rich and attractive. It does the job.

Its third cast this season gave signs, on April 26, of insufficient
rehearsal time. This was most clear in Fabio Luisi’s conducting, which
throughout the first scene and on several other occasions (notably the
murderers’ trio in Act III) raced along far too swiftly for the ability
or the experience of the singers. Luisi just didn’t seem to be giving a
thought to their vocal situations; a link that should go both ways was only
open in one direction. It is not necessary for a conductor to follow
his singers, but a certain degree of interaction, of appreciation of the way
they are handling their roles and when they are in difficulties, is something
one can hope for of a conductor leading a repertory opera of this

Rigoletto-Met-2011-02.gifGiuseppe Filianoti as the Duke

The three leading singers all have excellent reputations to which they all,
in part, lived up—the performance hit somewhere around the A-minus,
B-plus range. How would this cast sound in a smaller theater, or in a studio
with a more relaxed atmosphere? I suspect they’d all have done better.

Željko Lučić has one of the Met’s most beautiful
baritone voices just now, but he occasionally sang flat just when one wanted to
relax and enjoy it. Still: His “Cortigiani, vil razza” was a
jeweled display of Verdi singing, elegantly produced. One might not have
noticed, however, that this is a passionate aria, sung in an extreme situation.
As an actor, Lučić has much to learn, and the Met might with profit
bestir itself to teach him, and not merely how to sing a make-or-break aria
with the proper intensity. For one thing, Rigoletto’s hump is not a
figure of speech—he’s supposed to be visibly crippled, to have
lived all his life with taunts and ill treatment for his condition, to have
turned against the human race for this very reason. To stand sturdily upright
while those around you mime a cripple to insult you is to miss a big point, and
yet this was Lučić’s attitude all night. (His Barnaba in
Gioconda omitted personality in the same way.) His joking in Act I
lacked point or fury, his behavior in Act II lacked pathos. The courtiers did
not toss him about, either—he never seriously tried to break through. One
could admire the vocalism; one was never inspired to weep or cringe at the
tragic figure. Rigoletto is one of the supreme roles of the baritone repertory;
I hope Lučić, who sings it so well, will coach it with someone
knowledgeable, or undertake a production with a really inspiring director.

Diana Damrau, in contrast to Mr. Lučić, can act a role and does.
She’s studied the libretto as well as she’s studied the music, and
she lived every shade of it: Girlish with her father, alarmed and then yielding
when alone with her suitor, embarrassed and terrified by the crowd of strange
men in Act II, unable to tear her unhappy eyes away, in Act III, from the
Duke’s seduction of Maddalena. Her singing, too, was entirely at the
service of her dramatic conception—there were vocal fadeouts,
muddinesses, thinnesses that I suspect would not have been heard in a
rehearsal, the product of her concentration on being Gilda. It was
possible to enjoy her “Caro nome” without noticing it was—had
ever been—a famous coloratura showpiece, for she made its breathless
phrases an expression of girlish ecstasy. She took none of the role’s
optional high E’s—which Verdi did not compose—but she also
omitted the trills, which he did. Those accustomed to more power at such
moments as “Si, vendetta” might also have been disappointed.

Where Rigoletto should be (but Lučić wasn’t) busy, uneasy,
concocting and reflecting, the Duke should be graceful, sensuous, at home in
his vicious element. Giuseppe Filianoti was a Duke who could not sit still. His
pleasing tenor was all over the place, heavily stressed in the first scene,
suave and pleasing in the seduction duet, hoarse in the quartet (where the
direction demanded far too much activity to permit high notes), and cracking
unattractively in his post-coital encore of “La donna Ë mobile.” He
basked in his own and the audience’s affection, so that it was easy to
think him a ladies’ man, more difficult to see him as the self-indulgent
daydreamer of “Parmi veder.” He often ended phrases with a serene
high note, only to be brought up breathlessly short. Was it the unaccommodating
conductor or a graceless vision of the part that gave him pause?

One of the most impressive things I’ve ever beheld on any stage was
the sight of Ruggiero Raimondi as Sparafucile, singing his lines while holding,
over his shoulder, a sack containing Joan Sutherland. After he sang (and he
sang well), he slid the sack ever so gently to the floor, where
Sherrill Milnes did not even try to lift it, but hauled it to center stage,
kicked it a few times, and—out popped Joanie, trilling away! At the next
performance I attended, Ivo Vinco did not attempt to carry the sack—an
assistant ruffian stood behind him to hold it. Sparafucile in this latest
Rigoletto was Stefan Koc·n, who sang decently and looked very sporty
(hired assassins outdress courtiers in this Mantua, evidently), but whose
threats I cannot take seriously—an assassin who needs an assistant to
help carry petite Diana Damrau can’t be much good at his job. Kathryn
Day, the substitute Giovanna, sang her few phrases with lovely clarity. Someone
has told Quinn Kelsey, the Monterone, that this is the Jonathan Miller
production set in Little Italy; he sings well but his moves and gestures are
those of a low-class Sicilian thug. Monterone is a gentleman at a ducal court
and should behave with outraged dignity, a very different thing, at least on
the stage.

John Yohalem

image_description=Zeljko Lucic in the title role and Diana Damrau as Gilda [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
product_by=Rigoletto: Željko Lučić; Gilda: Diana Damrau; Duke of Mantua: Giuseppe Filianoti; Sparafucile: Stefan Koc·n; Monterone: Quinn Kelsey. Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Fabio Luisi. Performance
of April 26.
product_id=Above: Željko Lučić in the title role and Diana Damrau as Gilda

Photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera