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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Rigoletto (highlights)
Prelude; Act I: Della mia bella; Questa o quella; Gran nuova!; Ch’io gli parli; Pari siamo!; Figlia!; Mio Padre!; Giovanna, ho dei rimorsi; Gualtier Maldè; Caro nome; Zitti, zitti
Act II: Ella mi fu rapita!; Parmi veder le lagrime; Possente amor; Povero Rigoletto; Cortigiani, vil razza; Tutte le feste al tempio; Schiudete; ire al carcere; Sì, vendetta
Act III: La donna è mobile; Un di, se ben rammentomi; Bella figlia dell’amore; V’ho ingannato
Richard Leech (tenor) ... Il Duca di Mantova; Alexandru Agache (baritone) ... Rigoletto; Leontina Vaduva (soprano) ... Gilda; Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano) ... Maddalena; Patricia Bardon (mezzo-soprano) ... Giovanna; Alastair Miles (bass) ... Il Conte di Monterone; Peter Sidhom (baritone) ... Marullo; Barry Banks (tenor) ... Borsa; Geoffrey Moses (bass) ... Il Conte di Ceprano; Fabrizio Visentin (tenor) ... Usciere; Paula Bradbury (mezzo-soprano) ... Paggio.
Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera/Carlo Rizzi
Recorded in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, in February 1993
WARNER APEX 2564 61522-2 [75:53]

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This discs of highlights from Rigoletto, now available at budget price, is culled from a complete recording made twelve years ago. With a playing-time of almost 76 minutes it contains around 2/3 of the opera, which means that we get all, or almost all the well-known scenes and arias plus some numbers that are not so well-known but important for the drama.

On a highlights disc we rarely get much dramatic continuity; as soon as one has become involved in the proceedings there is a break, or at worst, a fade-out and then we jump to the next scene. The booklet has a short synopsis, giving the outline of the story, but it is not cued and it isn’t easy for the uninitiated to know what is actually sung. Moreover one of the pivotal characters, the professional murderer Sparafucile, is completely missing, although, ironically enough, Samuel Ramey, who sings Sparafucile on the complete recording, appears in large print on the cover. Didn’t anyone at Warner listen, say, with the libretto at hand?

Carlo Rizzi secures good playing and singing from his Welsh forces, although his conducting sometimes feels a little anonymous and he is generally on the slow side, compared to some reference recordings. He highlights though the contrasts in this score between the light and the dark, well illustrated in the first two tracks, where the prelude with its ominous dark brass sounds and rolling timpani is heavy and menacing – and very slow – while the party scene at the Duke’s palace that follows is light and lively, almost to the other extreme. On a highlights disc this matters less, of course, since we don’t get the full picture anyway. I don’t know if this is the general impression when listening to the complete recording, since I haven’t heard it.

A look at the cast list shows that we have here a strong cast, not least among the comprimario singers. Alastair Miles’s sonorous bass stands out in the two tracks where Monterone appears (tracks 5 and 17). Peter Sidhom and Barry Banks as Marullo and Borsa also do a good job with expressive singing, especially from Sidhom. As Sparafucile’s seductive sister Maddalena, Jennifer Larmore is heard to good advantage in the duet with the Duke, preceding the famous quartet.

Of the three main characters Alexandru Agache’s Rigoletto stands out. This is a younger-than-usual sounding jester with a bright high Verdian baritone. His two set-pieces are dramatic and nuanced. In Pari siamo (track 6) we meet a Rigoletto on his way home, still shaken to the core from the damnation that Monterone had launched at him at the palace. And in the scene with the courtiers, Cortigiani, vil razza dannata (track 15) he is truly tortured. This is great acting and singing that goes to the heart.

His daughter Gilda is sung by Romanian soprano Leontina Vaduva with a slightly fluttery tone, that on the one hand is quite appropriate for the young girl’s predicament, nervous and eager; on the other the voice tends to develop a vibrato in forte passages that is too wide for an innocent girl. Caro nome (track 9) is reasonably well sung and she can sing beautiful pianissimos when required, as in Tutti le feste al tempio (track 16) where she is at her best. Agache (at 3:59) sings Piangi with much tenderness and affection and this also comes across in Lassù in cielo in the final duet (track 22). Vaduva sings with great feeling and Agache again makes us feel that his Rigoletto is experienced, not "just" interpreted.

The Duke of Mantua is of course a carefree and ruthless seducer with no deeper feelings, but he has style and and should be sung accordingly. Richard Leech, with his slightly gritty tone, sings a vital Questa o quella (track 3), but a little short on elegance. Unfortunately we are bereft of the Gilda–Duke duet in act 2, which may be a pity, because in the few phrases we hear of the dialogue preceding the duet proper Leech sounds properly impassioned. He is musical and nuanced and his big scene beginning act 2 is well sung although his tone hardens sometimes and gets a metallic edge. The cabaletta Possente amor (track 13) is sung with great élan, but he is also pressed to his limits. La donna è mobile (track 19) is not bad but he has none of the elegance, the light and shade of, say, Gigli or Bergonzi. He finds a warmer tone in the aforementioned duet with Maddalena and is on his best behaviour in the quartet, where he phrases seductively.

Something of a mixed bag perhaps, but there are many good things here and Agache’s impersonation of the hunchbacked jester is something more than that. His two monologues and his duets with Gilda are the tracks I most certainly will revisit.

Göran Forsling

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