Verdi: Rigoletto, The Metropolitan Opera
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Piotr Beczala was a perfect duke, singing with style and the smiling assurance of a guy who knows he looks good in a dinner jacket (Bloomberg.com)
Piotr Beczala as the Duke was a breezy, sleazy leader of the Rat Pack, a Frank Sinatra-type lurching from bender to hookup. His arias were winning and convincing ... (Washington Times)
New DG signing, one of the greatest tenors in the world, Piotr Beczala, is the womanizing Duke in this new production of Verdis Rigoletto from the Metropolitan Opera.
Zeljko Lueiæ sings the title role and Diana Damrau sings Rigolettos daughter Gilda
This DVD release appears in the Verdi year 2013, as music lovers around the world celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Italys beloved composer
Director Michael Mayer has placed his new production of Verdis towering tragedy in Las Vegas in 1960 an ideal setting for this eternal conflict of depravity and innocence
[Piotr Beczala is] one of todays most exciting young singers . . . Tall, trim and handsome, with a Hollywood smile, he also emits some of the most beautiful sounds to be heard on the current opera stage. (Opera News)
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First the pluses, and they are huge pluses. The singing by the central trio and the chorus is, as most reviewers have pointed out, outstanding. It is highlighted by the pure tone of Diana Damrau, whose beautiful voice is capable of handling any of the score's challenges. The Serbian baritone, Zeljko Lucic, makes for a formidable Rigoletto, and Juan Diego Florez's bright tenor voice, soars brilliantly, and enthusiastically, up to the house "gods." The conductor, Fabio Luisi, also manages to elicit a forceful and spirited Verdian sound from the Dresden Staatskapelle.
Sadly, the rest of the production's variables are quite uneven. Sometimes, the sets lend an appropriate context to the performance (e.g., Act II, the Duke's palace), and at other times, they raise more questions than answers (e.g., Act I, the blue bedroom cubicle).
Some stage directors, including certainly Nikolaus Lehnhoff, seem to want to make sure that they're noticed, and in behalf of bringing a new, or unique, slant to a production, their creative impulse leads them to this or that idiosyncratic interpretation of a particular scene that might make some sense to a few initiates, but ends up, for the most part, distracting from the performance, rather than complementing it. The conspicuous nudity in Act I, for example, is going to get our attention, but is it really necessary. The sterile blue bedroom cubicle in the 2nd half of Act I is sufficiently unusual as to get our attention, but it seems more a lingering distraction than performance-enhancing. And the perplexing embrace of the Duke with Gilda during the opera's signature quartet in Act III is another example of an attention-grabbing absurdity.
Other problems exist with some of the acting. Lucic, especially, directs too much of his attention to the audience, instead of his daughter, during a couple of their poignant duets together. When, in the course of Rigoletto's forceful ode to vengeance at the conclusion of Act II, for example, Gilda sings, "O mio padre, what a fierce joy flashes in your eyes," their lack of dramatic coordination is all too evident, because she never could have seen his eyes, ... she is backstage, and he is front, facing the audience the whole time.
There may not be many better singing performances of this opera, but for dvds, my preference would be the Carlos Alvarez, Rigoletto (at Barcelona), with Inva Mula and Marcelo Alvarez as the Duke, although the jester's rubber suit that Carlos Alvarez has to wear was poorly conceived. My 2nd choice would be Leo Nucci's Rigoletto at Verona with Mula and Aquiles Machado as the Duke; the production values at Verona are quite satisfactory, even though they had to be particularly challenging given that this open air venue seats 20,000.
[It is worth noting that the picture and sound of this Lucic Rigoletto are of a high quality, although it is also worth noting that the Amazon product details contain a number of errors. For one, the production's aspect ratio is widescreen (1.77:1), and not 1.33:1 as listed. 2.) There are five different language subtitles, including English, although Amazon lists only the German. 3.) Running time is 130-plus minutes as distinguished from the 90 minutes listed. Lastly, the audio format includes 5.0 DTS surround, in addition to the listed two channel stereo].
The absolute highlight was the "Bella figlia dell'amore" quartet....and Oksana Volkova and Stefan Kocan deserve special mention in this regard.
All in all....superb!
The only more fascinating performance of Rigoletto I can think of, after 50 years of listening, is the Callas/Gobbi one (the studio one, NOT the live one when Mme C sang sharp as chalk against a blackboard). But that performance is only on c/d's...and, let this be said out loud, not entirely faithful to the score (though even back then Mme C was leading the way by not concluding The Quartet with a high C).
Do, please, if you love this opera, treat yourself to this dvd. It will be a long time before you hear it better performed, I don't care what all star casts have already had their bash at it. This is the Rigoletto dvd I'm going to go back to.
Disclosures: I have no financial interest in its sales, nor any acquaintance whatsoever with the performers or anyone else involved. I'm just a plain old fashioned opry freak.
I am normally not a fan of updating settings and costumes to this level of extreme, but this production works brilliantly. It came at the height of the MAD MEN series on AMC Mad Men: Season 1 and provides a new mirror of that sexist era. What also helps enormously is the perfect cast of singers with great acting talent and the fact that they all totally enjoyed themselves on stage in this production. Piotr Beczala, Zejlko Lucic, Diana Damrau, and Stefan Kocan all give brilliant performances in this production and were not overwhelmed by the flashy sets and the radical update. How could any tenor resist the opportunity to do the Duke's first aria like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-zXLKd76fk
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