S&H Opera review


VERDI: Rigoletto, Opéra de Paris, September 13, 2001 (FC)

The mood was noticeably grim and reserved for this opening night of the opera season at the Opéra Bastille. There were no high fashion displays and none of the usual press and television cameras in the lobby, but there were security guards checking all bags and purses at the entrance.

However, it so happened that the Opéra de Paris had decided to open on a low-key note long before the terrible events in New York. What was presented was a 1996 Jérôme Savary production of this opera, which was seen again in 1998 and again in 2000. A good stage design, a solid cast and a conventional staging of this old chestnut was perhaps just the right note to strike for many in the audience that were looking for a bit of distraction this evening. Handsome and towering textured wall for all scenes and the theatrical sense of stage director Savary combined to serve this opera well.

Photographs Eric Mahoudeau

Leo Nucci is holding down the title role for this month's series and painted a moving portrait of the aggrieved father. Nucci is missing some weight in his lower register that would make him a great Verdi baritone, but his intelligent, forceful delivery and theatrical sense made a great impact. It is not surprising that he is one of the most recorded of the Italian baritones of his generation.

The Gilda of American soprano, Ruth Anne Swenson, was also finely detailed and strongly delivered. Her voice is heavier than I had remembered and she is maybe not still the ideal Gilda, but her emotional portrayal and clear high notes provided many thrilling moments. Her duets with Nucci were well crafted and provided the heat and light necessary for the success of this production. Fabio Satori reminded me sometimes of a caricature of an Italian tenor: short, stout, loud and missing the ability to act. Although possessing healthy vocal equipment, his metronomic delivery and featureless interpretation left many in the audience cold.

Baritone Willard White played a suave, almost charming Sparafucile. Following closely his terrifying Grand Inquisitor in the Don Carlo at the festival at Orange last month, this came as something of a surprise. Mezzo Nancy Herrera, a 1996 winner of Placido Domingo's Operalia competition, made a fine impression as Maddalena and showed she is ready for the big time. She will be singing Carmen in Israel, Florence and Rome in the future.

The Monterone of Igo Matioukhine was somewhat under-powered but the other characters, Nigel Smith as Marullo and Mihailo Arsenski as Borsa and Martine Mahé as Giovanna, were well sung. The Israeli conductor, Daniel Oren, with the Opéra orchestra and chorus, made major contributions to the strengths of this evening.

Frank Cadenhead

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