A scene from Act I of Verdi's "Rigoletto."Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaTaken during the rehearsal on January 22, 2013 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
The Metropolitan Opera showcased Michael Mayer's "Rigoletto" production Saturday evening for the beginning of its second run this year. The production, which made its premiere back in January, featured a tremendous cast of singers that triumphed on a number of fronts.
For those unfamiliar with Mayer's production, the director sets Verdi's perennial masterpiece in 1960s Las Vegas. Latinos Post reviewed the premiere of the work back in January (to read on the production, click HERE) and noted that the concept was well-thought-out and executed. Little has changed with this "revival" but there are a few notable differences that are worth mentioning. The climactic storm no longer features a barrage of flashing lights that emulate fireworks. In the earlier review, this writer noted that the effect could be a bit over-the-top and it seems that the Met has also deemed it unnecessary. The other major change comes with the subtitles. Some critics noted that the language has been updated in the titles to coordinate with the production's time period. The Met also did some editing and some more infamous lines (such as "Make sure there's gas in the car" when Sparafucile tells Rigoletto to avoid being seen) have been toned down to more faithful translations. That aside, the production continues to work as well as it did during its initial run.
The new cast is led by baritone George Gagnidze as the deformed outsider Rigoletto. While the hunchback is not apparent in this iteration of the role, Gagnidze's own coarse and arid voice seems to suggest the character's deteriorating quality. While Gagnidze's voice is not the most pleasant to listen to, it almost feels as if this is precisely the intention; when juxtaposed with the vocal qualities in the other two major roles, it actually benefits the drama. Gagnidze's Rigoletto hints at being a violent being in a number of instances. His "Pari Siamo" began with an aggressive ascension to the high E; almost unbridled fury unleashing itself. Moments later, he gave furious attacks to the passage "O uomini! O Natura!" almost like a man frustrated by his existence. Even as he calmed his voice during "Il retaggio d'ogni uom," his voice implemented a harsh crescendo on the high D on the word "Pianto." The sharp accents returned as he sang about the Duke's youth and power and the despised courtiers; the release of a truly bitter man. Even though there were embraces in the ensuing scene with his daughter Gilda (played by Lisette Oropesa), there seemed to be some distance between them; Gagnidze's Rigoletto was even harsh with her at moments in the scene when she asks about his identity. The volcanic fury eventually erupted during the famous Act 2 "Cortigiani! Vil razza dannata!" as Gagnidze spewed out brutal attacks on every phrase of the opening; the bitterness giving way to pure rage. However, as the aria progressed, his voice softened for one rare occasion as he begged Marullo and the other men for help. When Gilda returned from her experience with the Duke, he did not even look at her and as she sang the start of "Tutte le feste al tempio" he sat away from her, indulging in liquor. It seemed to emphasize a selfish and even cold attitude of the character that is rarely seen in other performances. This aspect seemed to transition well with Verdi's score. After Gilda tells her father of how she met and fell for the Duke, the first lines that Rigoletto utters are not ones of compassion for his daughter; he asks God why he has abandoned HIM. As Gilda reached out for a hug, he put his arms up to push her away; he was almost blaming her for his newfound shame. Eventually he hugged her as the duet drew to a close, but that true sense of endearment never really materialized between father and daughter. Again, the ensuing "Vendetta" duet seemed to further this egotistical portrayal as Rigoletto ignored Gilda's wishes to pardon the Duke. Most fascinating of all was the final scene in which Gilda dies. Even though he was affected by the death, Gagnidze's Rigoletto seemed a bit distanced, almost cold toward his daughter. Few would claim that Rigoletto doesn't love his daughter, but there is certainly a lot to be said for the possessive nature of the character and how his own bitterness towards life has potentially impeded him from truly embracing his daughter's love wholeheartedly. Gagnidze's performance certainly alluded somewhat to this idea.
Lisette Oropesa brought a delicate soprano to Gilda. Her sweet-colored tone combined with polished phrasing perfectly suited the childish nature of Gilda; her timid movements furthered the idea that she was truly a young girl entering into the flower of her youth. She was all smiles upon seeing her father and embraced him furiously. When he did not respond in kind, there seemed to be some disappointment in her face. One of her most touching moments came during the start of the duet "Ah! Veglia o donna, questo fiore" as Rigoletto pleaded with Giovanna (Theodora Hanslowe) to take care of his daughter. As Gagnidze sang his passage, Oropesa stood a few feet away, a look of guilt dominating her face; the shame of lying to her father. Her vocal response was delivered gently, almost as if to soothe his concerns. During the following scene, her voice blossomed as she sang of her deep love for the mysterious man. When she reached the climax of the passage (a G on the words "T'amo") she took an extended pause before hitting the note with a pure pianissimo; it was slowly dominated by the loud response from the Duke (Vittorio Grigolo). Right away, Oropesa's Gilda ran about the stage frantically looking for an out and during the course of the duet, she tried to stay away from him even though it was clearly obvious that her own body was pulling him toward her. Her voice took on a frantic quality as she called for Giovanna and delivered a frightened diminuendo on the words "Oh Dio! Nessuno!" She looked nervous as he touched her during "È il Sol Del l'anima" and her vocal response was soft and almost fragile; Gilda, despite her own fears, slowly gave into her greatest desire. Another wonderful aspect of this duet is how the two adapted to one another and their characters' respective psychologies. As aforementioned earlier, Grigolo's "t'amo" was delivered with great volume, drowning out Oropesa's rendition of the phrasing and he projected his booming voice throughout the early sections of the voice; his volume emphasized the domination of the Duke. As the duet progressed, he slowly lowered it to match her softer singing; the Duke trying to ease Gilda into giving in. Inversely, Oropesa started to sing with greater intensity and the timidity in her physicality also dissipated. By the end, their voices matched as one and the psychological conquest of Gilda was accomplished vocally and emotionally. The two played a flirtatious game during the ensuing "Addio! Addio!" and at the end they engaged in an honest and even humorous first kiss. It was sloppy and indulgent, but emphasized the young girl finally let out all of her newfound sexuality.
Oropesa's "Caro Nome" was one of, if not the highlight, of the evening. The soprano utilized all of her vocal resources to deliver a portrait of purity and innocence. She sat on the bench and began writing into her diary as she delivered the opening staccato phrases; they seemed to vibrate with an intentionally tentative quality that mirrored Gilda's own admissions of her feelings to herself. Eventually she put the book down and lay on the bench, all the while dishing out one beautiful legato line after another. At the end of the phrase "a te sempre volerà," she made a slow diminuendo on the F before unleashing a lovely run into the stratosphere of her voice that portrayed Gilda's angelic character. She made the ensuing rhythmic leaps and coloratura passages sound like cries of joy and ecstasy; the precise trills throughout the aria emphasized the goose bumps of first love. Her final cadenza featured a series of arresting high notes, including a tremendous crescendo on the High B that initiates it. At the end of the virtuosic phrase, she interpolated a high C that was also delivered with a cathartic crescendo.
The second act featured a very different character painting. As she walked onstage after being raped, Oropesa's Gilda ran to her father and looked about her, clearly frightened. At one moment, she almost ran at one of the leering courtiers, but immediately backed away from him. She continued to sing with the same delicate quality, but the intensity and potency of the voice increased to match the darker circumstance. Despite the traumatic experience, Oropesa' Gilda remained a young girl, but an increasingly emotionally unstable one. When she returned to save the Duke's life in Act 3, she looked about, lost and bewildered. Before running to her death, she christened herself and even knelt on the ground asking God for forgiveness. During the famous quartet, her Gilda came close to breaking down emotionally. Her arching phrases and sighs were filled with pain and her emphatic delivery of the syncopated phrases at the coda of the ensemble sounded like visceral cries. In the final duet, her voice took on a new complexion as she sang the first "Lassù in ciel;" the quality was softer and more delicate than ever before. She made a gorgeous diminuendo on the high A-natural "Addio" that portrayed her life slowly fading gradually. As she expired, a smile embedded itself on her face; a reminder that she was still a child.
Tenor Vittorio Grigolo made a tremendous impression as the Duke. From the start, it was clear that this was brash risk-taker who has no conscience for his actions. He walked about with the air of a diva movie-star and ripped the microphone out of his courtiers' hands before launching into a furiously paced "Questa o Quella;" in the opening measures he rushed ahead of conductor Marco Armiliato, but the two eventually coordinated. During the second act, he snorted cocaine and drank tons of alcohol during his "Possente Amor." After the famous quartet, he ravaged Maddalena on the couch with abandon. Grigolo's massive voice only added to his intense performance; the volume is so great that it would outdo some singers that use the aid of amplification. The voice carried through the chorus in the opening Act "concertato" and at times covered his own colleagues; as aforementioned with the Gilda-Duca duet, he always adjusted for dramatic purposes. However, the voice was not simply about volume. Grigolo exhibited supreme control over his vocal resources and delivered sumptuous sweeping and alluring phrases. After surprising Gilda in Act 1 with his pronounced "T'amo," he sang the phrase "Ah inseparabile" with a sublime pianissimo; on the word "Dio" his voice gorgeously melted into nothing. During the ensuing "È il sol del anima," his voice climaxed in a gleaming a high- A (the text "Angeli"). During the famous aria "Parmi veder le lagrime," he sang with intense abandon; the emotional wildness of the rendition emphasized the Duke's emotional instability. Even the famous "La Donna È Mobile" was performed with an aggressive nature; every time he came to the word "Vento," Grigolo attacked the note violently. The high notes were all delivered with security and brilliance; where many Verdi tenors sound strained in certain passaggio phrases, Grigolo sang with ease and flexibility. One such example was the climactic phrase of the "Parmi Veder le lagrime" or the apex of the opening phrase in "È il sol del anima." Even when the work was finished, Grigolo maintained an energetic demeanor as he ran out for his curtain call. He ran around the car but realizing he was going the wrong way, he ran around to the other side of the car and to the front of the stage. After taking his bow, he ran off-stage only to come back on when Oropesa motioned for him to return.
Bass Enrico Giuseppe Iori made a solid debut as the killer Sparafucile. He maintained a reserved nature during his initial duet with Rigoletto (and delivered a solid low F), but showcased more decadent violence during his scenes with Maddalena in the final scene; he grabbed her viciously and his delivery of the phrases was harsh, but effectively accented. Mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera brought a lush tone to Maddalena during the quartet and ensuing trio.
Conductor Marco Armiliato drew powerful thunderous sounds from the orchestra the entire night. It is essential to note that this writer saw "Die Walküre" earlier in the day and never heard anything as potent as what Armiliato drew from the musicians for "Rigoletto." The opening prelude was cataclysmic in its climax; the same went for the final storm in Act 3. The conductor seemed to prefer swifter tempi and it helped move the drama; it felt like the intermissions were actually longer than the Acts. Armiliato drew lush colors from the orchestra during the Caro Nome and the accented syncopations in the final duet emphasized Gilda's final breaths.
This "Rigoletto" run represents the final serving of Verdi that opera goers will get from the Met Opera during the legendary composer's bicentennial birthday celebration. A vibrant production combined with nuanced and emotional performances makes this the ideal final hurrah for a truly successful commemoration of one of opera's greatest contributors and heroes.