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What Hump?

New York
Metropolitan Opera
01/20/2017 -  & January 26, 30, February 4, April 19, 22, 27*, 2017
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Olga Peretyatko (Gilda), Nancy Fabiola Herrera*/Oksana Volkova (Maddelana), Joseph Calleja*/Stephen Costello (Duke of Mantua), Zeljko Lucic (Rigoletto), Stefan Kocán*/Andrea Mastroni (Sparafucile), Scott Scully (Borsa), Jeff Mattsey (Marullo), Clarissa Lyons (Countess Ceprano), Paul Corona (Count Ceprano), Nelson Martínez/Robert Pomakov* (Monterone), Maria Zifchak (Giovanna), Catherine MiEun Choi-Steckmeyer (A Page), Earle Patriarco (Guard)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo(chorus master), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Pier Giorgio Morandi (conductor)
Michael Mayer (production), Christine Jones (set designer), Susan Hilferty (costume designer), Kevin Adams (lighting designer), Steven Hoggett (choreographer)

O. Peretyatko, Z. Lucic (© Karen Almond)

“...vice is therein glorified at the expense of virtue.”
Francis Toye, Giuseppe Verdi His Life and Works

Rigoletto has had any number of productions in New York, but two stand out in the memory. Years ago during a performance in Central Park, the Gilda was so bad that when she was murdered everyone applauded – I have often wondered how the ingénue felt under that sheet. At the MET not too long ago, the baritone fell ill in the middle of the performance and the understudy seemed to have no sense of the blocking, forcing the Gilda (Anna Netrebko) to take him by the arm and lead him around to his marks. Now we have a version wherein one expects to hear Marlon Brando come out and sing “Your Eyes Are the Eyes of a Woman in Love”, a rendition so awful it must have made even Wally Cox cringe.

Rigoletto is in many ways Verdi’s great Romantic symphony, a work of superb music, not just musical theater. Remove even one note and much is lost. Although he did later compose even more poignant music (for example in Otello), there is no question that any “cuts” in Rigoletto, most notably the Duke’s second act cabaletta growing from “Possente amor mi chiama”, are simply inexcusable.

Since he has the opera named for him, let us start with the Rigoletto. Zeljko Lucic is a very deep baritone (his list of roles reinforces this perception); he did a fine job of hitting his notes. What he missed rather noticeably was his character. This only slightly deformed creature (political correctness run amok!) seemed only mildly concerned when his daughter is kidnapped and deflowered. Mr. Lucic apparently spent most of his rehearsal time honing the sound of his instrument (and rightly so) and less on developing his role. When he takes off his blindfold in the exact midpoint of the opera, the scene, one of Verdi’s most brilliant dramatic touches as we go from sprightly fair to horrible tragedy in an instant, he sounded no more upset than if he had noticed some dirt on his shoe. The element most absent this evening was morbidezza and we really felt its taking of the night off.

Olga Peretyatko has a lovely voice and can stretch it admirably. She is comfortable in her character and appealing in her beauty. She could, on the surface, pass for our ingénue except for one small matter: she is simply not a Gilda. Maria Callas had the same trouble: her recording with Tito Gobbi and Giuseppe di Stefano reveals that although her voice is dominatingly masterful her character is AWOL. One wonders what the Melba or Tetrazzini performance was like, but this present one was way off the beam. For purity of sound it was fine; for diving into a character it hit the side of the board on the way into the water and never really recovered.

The staging was superb, becoming at several points the only element that seemed to understand the horror of the story. Only one scene is stretched into many with the use of the elevator, which lights up its buttons to indicate movement of the plot. The up and down motion seems in many moments to be the only “character” onstage that understands the five stages of grief. There are also comical moments, as the floor show entertainers use microphones to generate the proper volume for their comical patter. Here the joke becomes current, as the MET has been dogged in recent years by possible “fake news” for the use of these artificial vocal enhancements and here they are simply props in dumbshow.

Fittingly, the best performance was that of Joseph Calleja as the Duke. Originally this was not the lead vocal role, but Caruso changed all that and, since then, all tenors salivate for the character. Mr. Calleja, although sloppy in some of his intonation, was the most satisfying character to be heard. Not afraid to let loose with his very loud passages, he commanded and controlled as only the ruler should. His minions, the chorus, were spot on as usual. They are the shining star of the MET and have been since I used to hear them at the old house BLC (before Lincoln Center).

Finally, the moment of the night was sparklingly achieved by the Sparafucile of Stefan Kocán. At the conclusion of his introductory soliloquy, he crosses that entire huge Metropolitan stage whilst holding the last note of his sinister introduction and, although going a bit flat towards the end, generated the most ardent applause of the night. At the dark heart of this incredibly creepy opera, this moment is the highlight (or should I say “lowlight”) and Mr. Kocán made the most of it. This is the memory (I was about to say “pleasant memory” but this does not quite fit) that I will take away from this performance.

Considering what Verdi and the censors did to Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, the setting of the action in a Nevada casino is not really that outrageous (somewhere in my armoire I believe that I still have that sweater). He originally titled the work La maledizione (the curse) and this overlay of evil permeates every note and transition. At its core Rigoletto makes us feel that we need to go home and have a shower.

Fred Kirshnit



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