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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto - Melodramma in three acts (1851)
Duke of Mantua, a licentious nobleman - Francesco Demuro (tenor); Rigoletto, his jester - Leo Nucci (baritone); Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter - Nino Machaidze (soprano); Sparafucile, a villain available for hire as an assassin - Marco Spotti (bass); Maddalena, his sister - Stefanie Irányi (mezzo); Giovanna, Gilda’s Duenna - Katarina Nikolic (mezzo); Count Monterone - Roberto Tagliavini (bass); Marullo, a courtier - Orazio Mori (baritone); Matteo Borsa, a courtier - Mauro Buffoli (tenor); Count Ceprano - Ezio Maria Tisi (baritone); Contess Ceprano - Scilla Cristiano (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Massimo Zanetti
Stage Director: Stefano Vizioli
Set and Costume original Designer: Pierluigi Samaritani; revised: Alessandro Ciammarughi
Video Director: Andrea Bevilacqua
rec. live, Parma Verdi Festival, 16, 20, 22 October 2008
Sound Formats: DTS-HD MA 5.1; PCM Stereo; Filmed in HD 1080i; Aspect ratio: 16:9
Booklet languages: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Also available in DVD format
C MAJOR 723304 [131:00 +10:00]

Here is Tutto Verdi 16 (all Verdi but missing two titles). Rigoletto is the second most popular of Verdi’s operas, coming after La Traviata, his next but one operatic staging. Both operas come in the all-time top ten world-wide, each being premiered at La Fenice, Venice, in March 1851 and 1853 respectively.
Rigoletto is based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse. In a letter to Piave his librettist Verdi described it as “the greatest drama of modern times”. He saw the character of Tribolet, to become Rigoletto, as a character worthy of Shakespeare, and there was no greater compliment that Verdi could pen. It did not reach the stage without hassle. The censor objected to a king being involved, to the general immorality of the story, and such minutiae as Rigoletto being a hunchback and the body of Gilda being on stage in a sack. Verdi compromised whilst maintaining the principles of the play. The compromise involved a change from a Royal Court to that of an independent Duke. Most importantly the changes maintained the historical period most suitable for the impact of Monterone’s curse on Rigoletto’s mind and being. It is with the words Ah! La maladezione! with which Rigoletto concludes act 1 as he realises his daughter Gilda has been abducted. This is also his final cry at the conclusion of the opera as he realises she is dead. This phrase, and Rigoletto’s reaction to it, has to be telling in any production. A curse in the present day has little if any meaning. Its significance is best realised in the contextual relationship of the words uttered by a jester at Court. Equally important is that any the production should realistically convey the nature of Rigoletto’s day job; this alongside his role of protective loving father to a daughter who knows nothing of the rather nasty nature of his work, its environment, nor of her family.
Rigoletto comes tenth in the all-time list of performed operas and second in respect of the Verdi canon after La Traviata. Those two operas, along with Il Trovatore, premiered between the two, are considered the gems of Verdi’s middle period and are immensely popular. With his preceding two works, Luisa Miller and Stiffelio, Verdi had honed his capacity to represent characters and their situations, adding to the dramatic impact of the whole as well as to the challenges to interpreters of the roles. The challenges are even greater in the trio of middle period operas. Consequently, I had expected the performances in this Tutto Verdi series, of largely provincial performances from Parma, to be beaten to pulp by recorded rivals from the great opera houses. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to award the imprimatur of Recording of the Month to Stiffelio on the basis of casting and production despite competition from La Scala and Covent Garden productions. I now find myself in a similar situation with this performance and staging of Rigoletto. Yes, the performance from Dresden in 2008 featuring Juan Diego Florez and Diane Damrau is better sung, but the production and costumes are plain silly (see review). That from Zurich in 2006, and like the present issue also featuring Leo Nucci in the title role, mixes time periods in an unconvincing manner and destroys the mood created in the opening scene in period costume (see review).
This 2008 Parma production, in sets and costumes by Pierluigi Samaritani, seems intent on doing visual justice to Verdi’s masterful creation. The lighting enables movement between scenes to be presented with ease and fluency by the video director, and stage promise becomes reality under the hands of director Stefano Vizioli. The opening scene is in colourful period costume and fully represents the licentious nature of the Mantuan Court. Even the full frontal nude exposure of Monterone’s daughter is appropriate rather than salacious (CH.6). The smooth movement between scenes, all in recognisably appropriate period and location settings, adds to the mood that is within Verdi’s creation. Everything is brought to recognisable fruition as to period and drama.
Whilst the visuals are important and appreciated, the singing and the musical performance must match. I have not always been an admirer of Leo Nucci. I have on occasion found his tone rather thin and wiry, in Verdi in particular. In this performance he does not show his sixty-five years. As an actor he has always had the capacity to represent a character and creep under the skin. No character is more complex than Rigoletto: caustic jester, and loving but over-protective father of a young daughter who he seeks to keep unaware of his day job and particularly from the eyes of his employer. In this performance Nucci manages to convey, by his acting, physical and vocal, all the necessary facets. In this he creates the best account of the role since I saw the Greek Kostas Paskalis in 1968 with the young Pavarotti as the Duke. Only for a few moments at the end of a magnificent Cortigiani vil razza danata (CH.22) does Nucci momentarily show signs of vocal pressure. However, after a rendition such as he gives I forgive all, and even the very slight unsteadiness at the end might be considered appropriate for a bereft and ageing father. Somehow or other he found the energy and vocal prowess to reprise, with his Gilda, the concluding verses of Tutte le feste (CH.24). This brought the enthusiastic audience to its feet.
The opera is not a one-singer piece. In this instance, Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda is sung with beautiful tone and a lovely trill in Caro nome (CH.14). All this is allied to consummate acting and a most appropriate and appealing stage presence. If the young Francesco Demuro as the Duke is not quite of that standard, he does not fall far short. He is no corpulent tenor; rather he has the figure du part to die for, likewise his lithe movement and curly locks. His singing is ardent and well characterised. Just occasionally I feel he squeezes the tone at the top of his voice a little. That said, he sings the opening act two double aria with graceful phrasing (CHs.17-18) and does likewise with that most famous of all tenor aria La donna e mobile (CH.27).
All the minor parts are sung well with the Parma chorus in vibrant voice. The conductor, if not in the very top class in bringing out every last nuance of the drama, is more than adequate.
Robert J Farr