Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto - Operatic melodrama in three acts (1851) [110:43]
Duke of Mantua - Richard Tucker (tenor); Rigoletto, his jester - Robert Merrill (baritone); Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter - Roberta Peters (soprano); Sparafucile, a villain available for hire as an assassin - Bonaldo Giaiotti (bass); Maddalena, his sister - Mignon Dunn (mezzo); Giovanna, Gilda’s Duenna - Carlotta Ordassy (contralto); Count Monterone - John Macurdy (bass); Marullo, a courtier - Calvin Marsh (baritone); Matteo Borsa, a courtier - Arthur Graham (tenor); Count Ceprano - Robert Patterson (baritone); Contessa Ceprano - Joy Clements Galassi (soprano)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Fausto Cleva
rec. September 1955, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, live radio broadcast, 22 February 1964. ADD, mono.
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 91005 2 [52:26 + 58:17]
I try to avoid being too picky and a little voice tells me that I should be more grateful for this recording than I feel. That said, this is in many ways standard fare from the Metropolitan Opera of the 1960s. If we had no other souvenir of Robert Merrill in one of his best roles it would be more treasurable but he made two fine studio recordings with Perlea in 1956 and Solti in 1964. His interpretation here barely differs in any respect from either of them. He is musically utterly dependable and wholly secure of voice, moving both in his solos and when duetting with Gilda, if never displaying the nuances or variety of vocal colour that Gobbi or Taddei find in the role. It is a noble, beautiful voice in all three of the recordings I compared but to hear him at his most expressive and refulgent the 1963 set under Solti is the pick, especially as that is in excellent stereo and generates more excitement than Cleva’s competent but routine direction achieves.
There are other advantages to the Solti set, not least Anna Moffo’s vulnerable, gorgeously vocalised Gilda. Roberta Peters had Gilda in her repertoire for thirty years, recording it first with Merrill, to whom she had been briefly married, in the Perlea set for RCA. It was also her farewell role at the Met in 1985. Her fans will find her in freshest voice in that earlier recording with Merrill and Björling but for me there was too much of the soubrette in her tone. I find that as early as 1964 her voice sounds rather piercing and shrill and I do not much enjoy her excursions in alt to hit D flat and even E flat at the conclusions of “Bella figlia” and Act 2 respectively. She is an affecting actress despite the monochromatic tendency of her voice and the chemistry between her and Merrill, especially in that heart-breaking concluding duet, is palpable.
It is good to have a souvenir of Richard Tucker as the Duke: ebullient and in clarion voice, he sounds rather mature but his lovely legato and exemplary diction make him a credible libertine, even if he’s no young Pavarotti or Björling. Although I am not always a fan of Alfredo Kraus, his Duke for Solti is possibly his best recorded role and his elegant tones are certainly more apt for the part. Tucker doesn’t take the optional B flat on “agli angeli” at the end of “Parmi veder le lagrime” and his cabaletta “Possente amor” is cut, as was standard practice at that time. The only other cut is the first appearance of “Ah! veglia, o donna”; Rigoletto and Gilda sing only the duet, not their initial verse each.
Unless you particularly want Tucker as the Duke or Peters as Gilda, the Solti recording remains sonically and interpretatively superior to this mono radio broadcast. The sound here is perfectly acceptable but for that stupendous Third Act to make its impact, you really want Solti’s drive and atmospheric sound. Both Perlea and Cleva are rather stodgy by comparison; I also rate highly Bonynge’s work in the much-maligned 1971 recording which to me does not by any means deserve the criticism which has been directed towards it over the forty years since its appearance. The LSO is hugely energised under him and his remains one of my four favourite recordings alongside the Solti, the Gobbi/Callas set under Serafin and the old Cetra set with Taddei and Tagliavini. Serafin is not as high-powered as Solti or Bonynge but still sustains terrific tension in that last scene. Peters’ sustained squeal as she enters Sparafucile’s den is hammy and melodramatic; she does the same in the Perlea recording to no advantage.
Giaiotti is a splendidly saturnine Sparafucile with the low notes required and Mignon Dunn is an appropriately luscious-voiced Maddalena who sounds genuinely appalled by her brother’s plan to murder her lover - not that it stops her suggesting an equally reprehensible Plan B.
In short, this is a wholly creditable souvenir of a good night at the Met but for repeated listening you really want more resplendent sound and more inspired conducting.
Ralph Moore

A wholly creditable souvenir of a good night at the Met